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‘Council’ housing is elegant and affordable

Most people’s idea of council housing in France – called HLMs, for habitation à loyer modéré – is of huge, ugly concrete blocks. But for some in Paris it will mean a 17th century hôtel particulier that was formerly home to the sculptor to Louis XIV, the Sun King.

22 March 2017

Sited in the centre of the city, in the second arrondissement just a stroll from Les Halles, the rents would normally be eye-wateringly high. But tenants will pay just €700 a month for a four-room flat with all mod cons such as open-plan kitchen, double-glazing, intercom and even a bicycle store.

The building, on Rue Réaumur, was refurbished over two years after the city used pre-emption rights to buy it because it was in very poor condition. The total cost was €7million with €3.5m of that for the renovation work.

Now, the building contains 14 social housing flats from studio up to four-room along with an office, a bar-tabac and a shop. Ian Brossat, Paris assistant mayor for housing, said the flats were “magnificent” with parquet on the floors, exposed beams and modern comforts plus 17th century sculpted features such as bas-relief.

The first tenants moved in last month but they were the lucky ones from the 130,000 on the waiting list for social housing in Paris. They may have been waiting years to reach the top of the list. Milla Kaamos, a Finnish freelance journalist who has lived in France since 1995, said many couples would apply for social housing during pregnancy, with the hope of landing a flat by the time the child had started to attend school.
“I made my first bid when I was pregnant. That’s a quite common way of doing it because childless couples hardly ever manage to get an HLM.”

She was lucky – after four years of trying, she and partner Marko secured an HLM flat in the Marais, not far from Notre Dame Cathedral.

Ms Kaamos, who writes a blog about Paris on the cheap – www.freeloaderinparis.blogspot.fr – said the capital had several HLMs in desirable areas such as near the Champs-Elysées,
on Ile Saint-Louis and elsewhere. She told Connexion how she secured hers.

“Like many Parisians, I complete the request every year, like participating in a lottery – with not much hope.
“In fact, living in the centre of Paris has become so expensive that 80% of all Parisians fulfil the conditions to claim social housing.
“Climbing prices and a short supply of homes mean that to rent a flat privately you are expected to earn four times the amount of your rent to be seen as a serious tenant.
“Even former mayor Bertrand Delanoë complained about only being able to rent a two-room flat with his mayor’s salary in his ‘own’ city.”
The criteria for social housing are the same across the country, being open to all French or EU citizens plus anyone with a valid titre de séjour residency permit. Earnings limits, however, vary across the country.
A national website was set up in 2015 to co-ordinate requests (tinyurl.com/z4fw6sg) but it is still possible
to apply at your local council. And in Paris, the LOC’annonces website allows applicants to apply for certain homes that are becoming available.

Paris has a varied mix of social housing and several set levels of income for four types of property, with some targeted at middle-class households who would otherwise be forced to move out of the city due to the pricey housing market.

Based on the previous year’s tax declaration and the household revenu fiscal de référence, it also changes with the number of people in the household and if any are children.

This means the maximum household taxable earnings for two people with a child or a young couple (those whose ages add up to less than 55) in Paris range from €27,207 for an A-class, very low income property to €74,849 for the D-class upper end.

Outside Paris and Ile-de-France, these limits are €21,575 for A-class and €54,618 for D-class.

Ms Kaamos said: “Once the claim is made, the file needs to be updated every year. If this is missed, the claim process starts from scratch.”

Applicants who refuse a home will not be reconsidered for 12 months.

“This was my fourth update and I filled in personal facts, net income, last employer’s name and address, current monthly rent etc. But five empty lines at the bottom caught my attention: ‘Additional information to support your application.’

“I found this motivating. It took one more day to find out the Paris social housing norms and focus on our situation in such a way that all the criteria were fulfilled. Our situation looked more than perfect: our rent was too high compared to our income, we were far below the income cap, we had a child and, last but not least, we were not French nationals.

“We were representing ‘social mixing,’ boosted by Paris’s current social housing policy. Plus, we’re Finns, which means even more of a ‘mix’ than a Brit or an American.
“I also noticed the claim got ‘extra points’ if there had been ‘a recent life change’ which had drastically reduced one’s income – and I had recently lost my job in a communications department. I had had to accept a low-paid job and this, too, was important to mention as the council prefers solvent tenants to avoid payment problems.

“As I was interested in older houses in the city centre, I avoided ticking the boxes for ‘building with garage’
or ‘building with a lift’ and hoped to avoid a block of flats on the outskirts. “Two months later we got a letter saying the council was considering our application for a 65m2 two-bed.”
Like in Rue Réaumur, the city had bought the buildings, which dated from the 17th century, and saved them from demolition to create more social housing.

“I must say we were lucky. Such an unexpected luxury for half of the rent we paid for the one-room apartment on the top floor! And it could be even less if we were worse off.”
However, it does need a lot of paperwork: “Our complete social housing file was massive and contained around 20 enclosed photocopies of various proofs of address, tax bill, ID, marriage certificate, child school certificates and much more.”

But the savings were substantial – “a rent of €600 a month when a similar- sized private flat would be €2,800”.

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