Housing for all!

It's not the most glamourous subject - but it's been grabbing headlines in France. Eric Cantona said he was standing for President to draw attention to it, Nicolas Sarkozy dedicated a big chunk of his 'comeback' TV interview last week to it, and five other presidential candidates turned up at a charity summit this week to promise they'd do something about it - with socialist François Hollande even taking one for the team when a protester threw a bag of flour over him.


The housing crisis has definitely become a major topic in France's presidential election - and given the scale of it, it's easy to see why. The number of rough sleepers is one of the first things foreigners notice when they visit France, with charities estimating them at 133,000 across the country. Another 8 million people are classed as badly housed - meaning they live in overcrowded homes or spend more than two thirds of their income on rent. Paris especially has some of the highest rents in the world, which coupled with a soaring unemployment rate, has left a lot of people desperate. It's not just a problem suffered by the very marginalised either; in Paris, you can be a pensioner who's had a decent job all their lives, or a young graduate starting out in a professional field like law, and still find yourself only able to afford a 10m2 studio.


I went to meet some of the victims of France's housing crisis - and some of the campaigners trying to do something about it.

(apologies for the shaky video and sound quality, shot it myself and edited it at home. I promise to invest in some software that mixes sound better. Or just edit at work)




What exactly are politicians planning to do about this, then?

They don't exactly have a great track record; this week, the Fondation Abbé Pierre, in its annual report, described the last fifteen years of housing policy in France as 'completely out of sync with the way ordinary French people are living' and 'blind to reality' - notably criticising a policy that has allowed 50% of housing built on publicly owned land to go straight on to the open market, instead of using it for social tenants. They say the government has displayed a blind faith in the ability of the housing market to right its own wrongs, and the few strategies they have tried, like toppping up rents to persuade landlords to charge less, have been totally ineffective.


Now Nicolas Sarkozy says he has the solution - changing planning law so that you an build 30% more housing on the same amount of land. The problem, of course, it that that's a gift to those who already own land, but unless they're under an obligation to rent it cheaply, it doesn't help bring down market prices. Local authorities across France have also accused his party, the UMP, of exacerbating the problem by blocking councils from building social housing on publicly owned land; the socialist mayor of Paris, Betrand Delanöe, claims he could solve the housing crisis in Paris' chic 16th arrondissement if only the local UMP would give him planning permission. Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande has promised to make it easier for mayors to build, and cap rents. Housing advocates say that while that might give many people a breathing space, setting a legal limit per square metre might encourage landlords who arent currently charging that much to put the rent up.  Centrist candidate François Bayrou wants to ban rent deposits, and leftist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon has gone for a serious attack on mortgages - saying the dream of ownership is a fraud and people just go from being at their landlord's mercy to being at the bank's. As far as I can see, there's a big gap in all these plans; freezing rents is not enough when there aren't enough houses to live in, but there are half a million empty properties in France. Some kind of punitive tax that would encourage owners to put empty houses, or holiday homes used for a couple of weeks a year, back onto the rental market would upset a fair few wealthy voters - but it seems like a missed opportunity.


That's what I think - here's what the papers made of the housing plans, plus François Hollande geting floured, in yesterday's Campaign Chronicles (a new show I'm doing, all about the French presidential election, every weekday morning at 9.50 on France24).



Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of FRANCE 24. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. FRANCE 24 is not liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • No HTML tags allowed

More information about formatting options

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.