Rich and poor increasingly segregated in Paris region

Geoffroy Van der Hasselt, AFP | A public housing building in in Aulnay-sous-Bois, a commune in the northeastern suburbs of Paris.

Over months of Yellow Vest protests, public debate has centered on the urban rural divide and the resources eaten up by the Paris region of Île-de-France. But a new study shows that the country’s wealthiest region is also the most deeply unequal.


The larger Paris region of Île-de-France is home to nearly 19 percent of the French population and represents 30 percent of the country’s GDP, but the report “Gentrification and growing poverty in the heart of Île-de-France” published Monday by the Planning and Urbanism Institute (IAU) shows that inequality has grown considerably since the early 2000s.

“With the Yellow Vest movement, there has been a lot of talk about poverty as a rural problem, as if cities are always better off,” the report’s author Mariette Sagot told FRANCE 24. “But that’s not true. There are poor suburban and rural areas, but deep poverty remains an urban phenomenon.”

Her study of household income data from 2001 to 2015 paints a startling picture of deepening inequality and entrenched segregation in the country’s largest metropolis.

Wealthiest and poorest more isolated

“What we’ve seen since 2010 in particular is a further concentration of wealth in the wealthy areas, while poverty has become more entrenched in the poorest areas,” said Sagot. The wealthy are particularly likely to live among themselves.

Half of the wealthiest households (the top 10 percent) live in just 26 of Île-de-France’s 1276 communes.

Meanwhile the overall poverty rate in Île-de-France hit 15.9 percent in 2015, up from 12.3 percent nine years earlier.

The poorest areas are seeing “a concentration of underqualified workers, often immigrants, with higher rates of unemployment or of precarious employment, and a growing number of single-parent households that have contributed to stigmatisation and deteriorating economic conditions,” emphasised the report.

Gentrification and the fractured urban fabric

With housing prices as high as 11,000 €/sqm in the most desirable neighbourhoods, young professionals and higher income households are moving to traditionally middle- and lower-class areas in Paris and its near suburbs.

“When we see prices rise 14 percent in the 19e arrondissement (a district on the northeastern edge of Paris), it’s not because people there are making more money,” Bertrand Savouré, president of the Greater Paris Accountants told Le Parisien newspaper. “It’s new populations moving in.”

But gentrification is not uniform in these towns. Middle- and high-income residents move to the neighbourhoods with easy access to Paris, parks, the river or wealthier areas, reproducing on a neighbourhood scale the segregation patterns of the larger metropolis.

“There is growing inequality within these peripheral mixed-income communes. The urban fabric is increasingly fragmented and segregated with some neighbourhoods growing wealthier while others are growing poorer,” said Sagot.

For example, in the town of Montreuil, on the eastern edge of Paris, the streets closest to the capital have grown more expensive, while conditions “are deteriorating in the east”, according to the report.

Traditionally modest suburban neighbourhoods with the best access to transportation links have gentrified significantly, but neighbouring areas have become poorer, with purchasing power down nearly 6 percent in communes like Saint-Ouen just north of Paris.

Housing as a social marker

As housing prices tripled between 1999 and 2018, housing has become a greater indicator of economic status, with home owners growing richer and public housing residents growing poorer compared to the average household.

Mobility in the housing market is also down. High housing prices and low economic mobility mean that populations in rich and poor areas are crystalising as people stay in their homes for longer.

Families are less likely to have moved in the last two years, particularly if they live in public housing. Social housing, once considered a stepping stone to home ownership or renting on the private market, has become permanent for many.

Thanks to a French law that requires many jurisdictions maintain a 25 percent public housing stock, poorer populations are not moving further out of the city. Those who move to distant suburbs, said Sagot, are middle-income families with young children who want single-family homes and more space.

Her study, she says, shows the importance of considering systemic inequalities within smaller communities instead of broader comparisons between urban and rural or semi-rural areas.

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