French acronyms explained: HLM 

We kick off our series on common acronyms with one renters may be familiar with

All departments must reach a certain quota of HLMs in their borders

If you have spent any time in France, you will know that it is a nation of acronyms. 

There are initials on road signs, shop signs, buildings and in almost every admin process. 

Even after several years as a resident, you can still be thrown by a new set of initials, so this series aims to explain a few of them, starting with 'HLM'. 

You could be forgiven for thinking this is a single word the first time you hear it, as it tends to be pronounced 'ash-ell-em'. 

It stands for habitation à loyer modéré, which roughly translates into low-cost rental accommodation – essentially, social (council) housing. 

The government website also calls it logement social

What can I expect? 

In many urban areas, HLMs are high-rise flats but can also include small properties and houses. 

They are built and run by a bailleur social, a social housing agency that might be council-run or private, partly funded by grants and loans from the public savings funds known as épargne populaire

Not all HLMs are managed by local authorities, but all HLM properties must have rents low enough to be accessible to people on modest incomes. 

Who does it apply to? 

As you would expect, social housing is available for people on low incomes. 

There is a threshold for maximum earnings, which depends on the number of people in the household and the location, as the limits are different in Île-de-France, other regions and overseas territories. 

In April, the government announced it will encourage tenants who exceed these income ceilings to move out. 

It estimates 8% of tenants have seen their financial situation change since being allotted social housing, and wants landlords to carry out regular checks to verify tenant details. 

How many HLMs are available? 

Each municipality is required to have between 20% and 25% social housing. 

However, the number of municipalities failing to meet these quotas is soaring: almost two-thirds (64%) have not met their targets for the period 2020-22, compared with 47% three years earlier, an increase of 17 percentage points. 

Where do I find out more? 

Search HLM at The results take you to information pages that explain who is eligible, the earnings threshold in your area, and how to apply