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Help RCHI Investigate: Can a New Mayor Make Paris Affordable?

Jessica Debats RCHI Blog Post Paris’ new mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is taking an innovative approach to turning the tide of gentrification. Through construction and renovation, as well as a new legal “right of first refusal” accorded to the city, the mayor intends to bring affordable housing to Paris’ affluent central neighborhoods. RCHI is analyzing this effort as part of its series of case studies on how affordable housing can contribute to the resilience of cities. By examining how the City of Paris institutionalizes the “right to the city,” RCHI can operationalize its criteria for housing that contributes to economic livelihoods, environmental safety, personal security, and community self-governance.

During her mayoral campaign, Hidalgo released a plan, titled A Right to Housing for All, calling for a more sustainable, resilient Paris that is accessible to “all those who want to live…near their job, in the heart of the historic and cultural capital, in the heart of this powerful economic metropolis” (Hidalgo, 2013, translated from French). Elected in 2014, Mayor Hidalgo now has the opportunity to put this plan into action. However, Hidalgo is no newcomer. Having served as deputy mayor to her predecessor, Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, Hidalgo is building on their previous efforts to expand affordable housing.

Hidalgo’s new plan is a response to the embourgeoisement of Paris. Since the 1980s, the city has seen a steady increase in middle-class residents, along with a steady decline in the working class population (Bacqué et al., 2011; Clerval & Fleury, 2013). At the same time, affordable housing has grown scarcer while the waiting list for social housing has grown longer (Bacqué et al., 2011). Moreover, the majority of social housing is concentrated in poorer neighborhoods in eastern Paris, contributing to social and ethnic segregation (Bacqué et al., 2011). What affordable housing is available in the city center tends to be substandard, often consisting of former servants quarters in otherwise pricey historical buildings (Keller, 2013; Laurian, 2012). For instance, many of those who died in the 2003 heat wave were socially isolated low-income seniors living in these small, poorly ventilated chambres de bonne (Keller, 2013).

The City of Paris has two powerful new tools for bringing affordable housing to affluent central neighborhoods. First, it has budgeted €10 billion ($12.3 billion) for constructing 10,000 new apartments annually over the next six years, 70% of which will be subsidized housing (O’Sullivan, 2014). Second, it has published a list of 257 addresses (representing approximately 8,000 apartments) in gentrifying areas for which the city government now has a “right of first refusal” (O’Sullivan, 2014). This means that whenever an apartment is put up for sale, the owner must first offer to sell it (at market value) to the City for conversion to social housing. The City has set aside €850 million ($1.05 billion) that may be used for such purchases, representing a maximum of 9% of its housing construction budget (O’Sullivan, 2014).

Paris’ new approach to affordable housing is embodied by several recently completed housing complexes in the city center, which have been publicized by the mayor’s office. For example, at 24 rue de la Banque in the 2e arrondissement is a Haussmann-era office building once occupied by artists, activists, and homeless families to highlight the need for affordable housing (Mairie de Paris, 2013a). The building has since been purchased by the City and converted into new social housing (Mairie de Paris, 2013a). Another example can be found at 8/10 rue Molière – 19/21 rue Richelieu in the 1er arrondissement, where forty units of social housing have been created steps from the Palais-Royal in one of Paris’ most prestigious areas (Mairie de Paris, 2010; Mairie de Paris, 2013b). And at 10 rue Dupetit Thouars/22 rue de la Corderie in the 3e arrondissement, social housing residents enjoy an on-site daycare, a private garden, and a renovated historical building with energy efficiency certification, while living in the midst of the otherwise gentrifying neighborhood of Le Marais (Mairie de Paris, 2010; Mairie de Paris, 2013b).

In all of these sites, however, questions remain. Whose right to remain is being protected? Who is being subsidized, and to what extent? Mayor Hidalgo’s plan for “a right to housing for all” explicitly recalls Henri Lefebvre’s call for a “right to the city,” in that both seek to ensure all urbanites access to the benefits of urban life. Nevertheless, Paris’ efforts to institutionalize the “right to the city” may miss some of its more radical implications. For instance, the City has been criticized for privileging middle class residents under the guise of promoting social mixing (Bacqué et al., 2011). Moreover, it remains unclear to what extent low-income Parisians have a significant voice in the design of new housing or the political processes surrounding its development. Nevertheless, under Mayor Hidalgo, Paris’ new housing policy has been hailed as Europe’s most radical anti-gentrification effort to date (O’Sullivan, 2014).

RCHI is interested in speaking with people on the ground who have experience with Paris’ new housing policy, including political officials, planners, designers, housing activists, social housing residents, and others. If you would like to share your experiences with RCHI, please contact Jessica Debats at jdebats@mit.edu.

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