Poorly housed Parisians

CC Jean-François Gornet

Despite its image as the “city of light,” Paris still has a certain amount of dilapidated, unhealthy housing. The living and employment conditions of the people who live in it, for the most part immigrants and their descendants, are precarious. A major proportion of poorer people have already deserted France’s capital, forced out by rising rents and the unavailability of public housing. But poorly housed Parisians, surveyed over several years by INED researcher Pascale Dietrich-Ragon, have no intention of leaving the city. Most reject the idea of being “exiled” to the outlying districts, which for them would amount to a social status fall. And they continue to live in Paris, at the cost of inhabiting insalubrious housing.

From 2004 to 2009, Pascale Dietrich-Ragon conducted an ethnographic study and a questionnaire survey with 500 poorly housed inhabitants of Paris apartment buildings affected by the city’s plan to eliminate dilapidated housing, which went into effect in 2002. She then spent a year observing the work of the city’s housing department, also meeting with candidates for subsidized housing.

Insalubrious apartment buildings at the heart of France’s capital

The dilapidated buildings in the study were primarily located in northern Paris, principally in the 18th, 19th and 20th arrondissements. Fewer than half of their occupants (44%) had all essential living facilities. And only 10% had more than 20 squar meters per person, as opposed to 82% for the population at large.

Insalubrious housing:

  • 54% of occupants report water leaks
  • 70%, parasites
  • 59%, heavy humidity
  • 55%, intense cold
  • 43%, noise problems

Lack of essential living facilities

  • 40% of the dwellings had no inside toilets
  • 33%, no bathing facilities
  • 30%, no hot water
  • 23% no heating

Who are Paris’s poorly housed?

The survey respondents are mostly poor, some extremely so. 80% of the sample are immigrants and their descendants, a third of whom are “sans papiers” (illegal). Half of the households surveyed are among the poorest 10% of the French population. Only 43% of persons of working age (15-64 years) have a regular occupation, as opposed to 62% in the population at large; at least 12% are employed illegally. Those who do work often have unpleasant jobs, poorly paid and at odd hours, though a small proportion are educated or do skilled work.

Precarious living situations

  • 53% are renters, one-third of whom have no lease
  • 16% are squatters 10% are housed temporarily in minimum comfort hotels
  • 5% sublet
  • 4% are housed by others in private arrangements

Low resources

  • 27% have no income
  • 9% have unstable income

Poor workers

  • average monthly income of 1061€
  • 25% of those reporting paid employment earn under 600€/mo.
  • 12% earn over 1500€/mo.

Low-skilled jobs

  • 68% of those who have already worked did so or work in unskilled jobs
  • 17% are in mid-level occupations
  • 15% do skilled work

Low educational attainment and in some cases not proficient in French

  • 32% have never or almost never been to school
  • 45% went as far as middle school or high school
  • 23% have a higher education
  • 37% have difficulty reading French
  • 43% have difficulty writing French

Living in Paris despite all

Despite their uncomfortable living conditions, most of the poorly housed Parisians surveyed fear they would be even more marginalized if they settled in the city’s outlying districts. They think of those districts as made up of ill-reputed housing projects and fear the long commutes on public transport. Living in Paris is a kind of symbolic rampart against exclusion, a “promise of work and upward social mobility,” says Pascale Dietrich-Ragon. Paris is also an “anchor” for those who grew up there but also for migrants living in neighborhoods characterized by solidarity and mutual assistance among people of the same origin. Lastly, fear of the unknown and moving costs keep them in the capital; “paradoxically,” explains the author, “it is easier to leave Paris when you are settled in life and have a relatively good socioeconomic situation.”

Source: "Résister à l’exil. Enquête auprès des mal-logés parisiens", Pascale Dietrich-Ragon (Ined), revue "Espace et Sociétés", 2014 1-2 (n°156-157), ERES.

Contact: Pascale Dietrich-Ragon

Online : July 2014