Will small homes that cost "one euro"* and migration back to small towns change Sicily?
A volunteer team in Cammarata, Sicily thinks so.
You may have heard about the phenomenon that has been sweeping through villages and towns in Italy and other countries — “one-euro homes”. One-euro homes refer to residential properties, usually in need of rehabilitation, that can be picked up for a nominal price of — you guessed it — about one euro.
The people in many of these small Italian towns have been leaving for decades to pursue economic opportunities and a different pace of life in bigger cities. ‘One-euro home’ programs leverage a catchy marketing term to entice people from Italy and around the world to "move back" and repopulate these towns.
There are a few things to bear in mind. First, the ‘one euro’ price tag is a teaser price—buyers can expect the total cost of ownership to include thousands, probably tens of thousands of euros in costs to renovate these often-abandoned properties to a livable condition.
Second, there are a lot of these projects popping up in hundreds of towns, and not all of these real estate programs are created equally. They are often run directly by municipalities and cities, and the rules are not unified across programs. Sometimes, the buyer must become a primary resident, sometimes they can be an absentee landlord... Sometimes the zoning allows for small businesses. Sometimes there is a timeline to rehabilitate the property, which if not met will result in forfeiture of the property.
The town of Cammarata on the island of Sicily runs a special one-euro-home program, one which benefits from having a unique marketing and logistics team promoting the entire endeavor: StreetTo is a non-profit organization that aims to bring new life to the ancient center of Cammarata, a mid-sized town on the island.
We spoke with Martina Giracello, an architect and the head of StreetTo about the project:
There are many one-euro house projects across Italy, but Cammarata seems special—in that StreetTo has created a dedicated team to help promote the project. Why specifically did you start this volunteer project?
StreetTo was created from the work of a group of young friends who work here in town, live in Cammarata, and believe in the idea of building a new community with the help of like-minded people. Most of us had been living abroad throughout our lives and careers, but we all decided at some point to come back to our land, putting all our efforts into a project which would affect and benefit the whole community. We all have day jobs, and some of us work remotely—but some work in the ‘more traditional way’. What we all share is the strength and passion to work on a bigger project to make Cammarata a more vibrant place. Why live in a community passively when you can make contributions that push it to be more as you’d like it to be?
Your town is part of the “1 Euro House” trend, but you have more listings, even ones at slightly higher prices, on your website. Can you explain the difference between the "1 Euro House" versus "Other Houses"?
The 1 Euro Houses project is basically where the project started from. The Municipality of Cammarata has a tiny database of houses that have been donated by the actual owners. They are all in poor condition, sometimes they are just exterior walls, sometimes (with a little luck) a bit more complete— but certainly, they all have potential. When we started our project, back in May, we realized most people need an alternative to the One Euro Home system, so that’s why we started hunting for affordable houses, still very cheap, but above one euro and in better conditions. What we have called ‘Other Houses’ are those in need of renovation work, for sure, but depending on the case, a buyer could be lucky enough to find something that might save some renovation costs and time at the end of the day.
Can you share how many 1 Euro Houses have been sold and what nationalities or types of people are buying them?
The assigned 1€ Houses are all listed on our website, as well as all the other available ones. They have been assigned already to people coming from the EU as well as from the US. The stock is always changing.
What kind of relationship do you have with the municipality of Cammarata? Is this an official or unofficial volunteer organization?
We are in a very close relationship with the local municipality and its mayor. In 2021, StreetTo and the Municipality of Cammarata signed a collaboration agreement that allowed us to manage the entire 1€ Houses program. Yes, StreetTo is an “official” volunteer organization, indeed.
As mentioned, it seems like there are hundreds of towns offering some kind of program to rehabilitate housing in small towns. Do you see yourselves as "in competition" with other cities?
That is true, but we don’t see our program as in competition with the ones from other cities simply because each city has different aspects which make it unique. When foreigners come to see properties here in Sicily, they usually visit different cities and then decide to move to one city or another based on what they find interesting for their own situation, so it is pretty subjective. We view things on a large scale— as a single movement to help Sicily grow and develop in each of its many facets.
Are there any misconceptions about moving to a small town in Sicily that you think people should know about? What is something foreigners don't really "get" that they should know?
Sometimes foreign people who have just arrived in Cammarata think this town is gonna appear like an abandoned place, with no one living or working here, no services, no business, no internet connection—well, this is why we always highly encourage everyone to come here and spend a few days in the town. Cammarata is full of shops of all kinds, bars, and restaurants, there is 100% coverage of fiber-optic cable, a train station, a movie theater, and tons of possibilities for outdoor activities. A small town in Sicily doesn’t mean you’re just lost in the middle of nowhere. Everything is just scaled down (and made easier).
I would assume to legally live in Cammarata, one needs to be either an EU citizen or have an EU work or residency permit. Is the program open to buyers from other places like North America, Asia, and elsewhere who are not European residents today?
Our program is open to anyone willing to pay for the renovation of their chosen house, no matter where they come from. Unfortunately, we always have to clarify that when buying a property in Italy, you don’t get EU citizenship automatically— but anyone can buy.
These 1 Euro Houses, by their very nature, need renovations — how does someone coming from outside the city navigate this challenge locally?
Our team of volunteers is available to help anyone who wants to buy and renovate a property here in Cammarata throughout the whole process. From the buying stage to the actual home renovation, we will help foreigners to find the best local solutions for a smooth project.
What do you see as the future of this program — how many more houses in the town might be eligible — dozens, hundreds, thousands? Do you have an ultimate vision or mission in mind for five years from now?
Ever since we started the project, only recently in May 2021, we have always considered StreetTo as a pilot project, even if the results so far have been very encouraging for us. To be honest, we are not focused solely on numbers, as we aim to have quality additions to our community. Cammarata doesn’t necessarily need to sell hundreds of houses, but our community does need to grow together with the new residents who will decide to embrace our vision. This is probably the main difference between our project and the ones in other cities, I think.
Have you seen anyone use the program yet to open a shop, restaurant, or bed-and-breakfast? Some cities are not open to BnBs — they want to encourage full-time residents rather than vacation homes. What is Cammarata's position on this?
We are targeting primarily people who are willing to permanently move here in Cammarata and work remotely or open a new business in town, as our project has a more community-oriented, long-term vision. Of course, everyone can do whatever they like to do with their new property in Cammarata, but we highly suggest spending some time in town to see what the local market needs, before buying a house only to open a bed-and-breakfast. Let’s say, it may not be the smartest move, based on our experience.
Is there anything else I didn't ask that you would like to talk about?
From our direct experience, people who find us have in common a wish to find a quiet place to live or to start a new chapter of their lives. People are looking for safer places, a better quality of life, and in general, better living conditions compared to big chaotic cities. Cammarata has a lot to offer to everyone who wants to live differently, slowly and easily in a place where air and food are better.