France 24, March 11, 2020
While cities like New York and London have let their public housing fall into disrepair, Paris is building and renovating more than ever – including in the most upscale neighbourhoods. But despite the city’s best efforts, many Paris residents are being priced out.
A medieval monastery in the heart of the Latin Quarter. An 18th-century hôtel particulier, or mansion, just steps from the Louvre. A 19th-century barracks near the Gare de Lyon. The former home and workshop of one of France’s premier piano makers, where Frédéric Chopin played his first public concert.
These Paris buildings have one, perhaps surprising, thing in common: They’ve all been transformed, partially or fully, into public housing over the past five years under Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo. They represent a small sample of the unprecedented expansion of public (or “social”) housing in the French capital under Hidalgo as well as her predecessor, fellow Socialist Bertrand Delanoë. With rents in the private market soaring and making the city increasingly unaffordable for all but the highest earners, Hidalgo’s team has made the expansion of social housing a cornerstone of her platform for a more equitable city – and by extension, of her bid for re-election in a tight race later this month.
“The function of social housing is to allow people to keep living in Paris who wouldn’t be able to if there were only private housing,” says Ian Brossat, deputy mayor for housing, of the French Communist Party. Without alternatives to the market, he says, working-class people would effectively be shut out of the French capital.