Latest update: 20/12/2010
French cities prefer fines to social housing
Municipal authorities across France prefer to pay fines rather than invest in deeply unpopular social housing projects because paying the fines is cheaper and helps win votes. Several cities are obligated by law to increase public housing.
By FRANCE 24 (text)
It is a regular feature of Christmas in France and the posters are everywhere. Each year, one French charity, the Abbé Pierre Foundation (Fondation Abbé Pierre), posts grim pictures of extreme poverty and sub-standard housing.
While the campaign seeks to spur action among individuals, French cities are also falling short in their efforts to provide adequate housing to the disadvantaged. Many municipalities are compelled by law to boost their public housing stocks over a 20-year period or face fines -- but many are choosing to ignore this obligation.
Why is the law ignored?
A combination of cynicism and "nimby"-ism (for "not in my backyard") means that many social housing projects never even make it to the drawing board.
Local authorities are actually better off financially if they ignore the rules and just agree to pay the fine, which is far cheaper than providing housing and establishing support services for disadvantaged families.
Moreover, elected officials believe that social housing costs them votes. Residents often lobby local governments to put the brakes on housing projects and cases sometimes make it to court.
According to the Abbé Pierre Foundation, France now has a shortfall of up to 900,000 of the public homes it has planned.
Solidarity and Urban Renewal
The Solidarity and Urban Renewal (SRU) Act turns 10 years old this Christmas. It requires local authorities with more than 35,000 inhabitants (1,500 in the Paris region) to ensure that at least 20 percent of all housing will be subsidised housing by 2020.
Towns that fail to achieve this goal would be subject to a fine of 152 euros per unit of housing below the quota.
Ten years on
But a decade after the law was passed, many local authorities have done nothing to fulfill their legal obligation to provide more public housing.
According to figures published in the French daily Liberation, of the 931 local authorities concerned under the SRU law, 351 have made no effort at all to improve access to social housing.
Some French cities have made significant efforts, sometimes above and beyond their original goals.
In Paris, for example, the volume of social housing rose from 13 percent in 2002 to 18 percent in 2010. Marseille, Toulouse and Lyon have also made considerable progress.
But the same cannot be said for other notable locales, such as the seaside resorts of Nice and Biarritz, or the wealthy Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, where President Nicolas Sarkozy was mayor from 1983 to 2002.
An appeal from the prime minister
In a letter sent to the heads of local authorities across France last week, Prime Minister François Fillon urged them to “make sure that the full quota of social housing is properly identified and managed efficiently” and appealed for all targets to be met.
The opposition Socialist Party, meanwhile, called for tougher measures. In a text entitled “Real Equality”, it suggested that the social housing quota be raised from 20 percent to 25 percent and for the fines for non-compliance to be multiplied five-fold.