Housing horrors

In France the government has decreed that many more ‘HLM’s (Habitations à Loyer Modéré or Homes at Moderate Rent) must be sold. But, although HLM are the equivalent to our council housing, there is no subsidy for the tenant – only first refusal on the purchase. Unsurprisingly the homes (almost invariably flats) are proving difficult to sell.

Typically HLM are the rather brutalist, rectangular blocks of apartments you see on the outskirts of French towns and currently comprise 16% of housing in France. Interestingly, they are financed by a savings scheme known as Livret A which was originally run by the Post Office, and the Caisse d’Epargne (Savings Bank) but now the banks themselves offer schemes. These operators collect in the money and then pass it on to the state in varying proportions in order to finance HLMs. Some organisations that get to run the resulting blocks of flats are private but are more usually public. As this system has been in place since the war France has much less of a housing crisis than the UK. But of course as members of the Euro, they are in trouble for their high deficit so raising money from state goods is theoretically ‘a good thing’ in that context.

Debt for Eurozone countries should be at 60% (whoever agreed to that?) of GDP whereas France’s is currently about 98% and hasn’t altered much in years. Macron’s arrival has, however, led to deficit reduction (unfortunately) being taken more seriously, but at least there is a sort of logic.

How different from the UK where our own government charlatans require sales of council housing without replacing them just on the whim of dogma. It is council sadism  – clearly, if it isn’t hurting it isn’t working.

The recent UK budget told us nothing about sprinklers for skyscrapers but was full of a stamp duty give away for first time buyers, who somehow can countenance a price of half a million to get on the housing ladder. So I’m sure when they’re going to save a couple of thousand on stamp duty it will be a marvelous help. In effect it gives money from the state to property owners, whilst giving a few more inflationary puffs to the property bubble. This pampered austerity is in stark contrast to the the shocking conditions in the short film of Connect House:

HLMs may be ugly but at least they’re properly financed and weatherproof.


  1. Charles Adams -

    Good points. Always worth looking to other countries to see how we might do better.

    The debt to gdp statistic should not be the primary focus of economic policy. Unless we shift to better goals we will be talking about lost centuries not just lost decades.

  2. Sean Danaher -

    “I’d rather be poor in a poor country than poor in a rich country” was the closing line in the video. How true. The demoralisation such inequality brings is disgraceful. I have zero faith the Tories will do anything about it. These people are from a different tribe, won’t vote Tory and as far as most Tories are concerned I suspect they are the “undeserving poor”. The really depressing thing is Brexit is likely to make the UK much poorer.

    We need a radical progressive government.

    Developments in France are a bit depressing. Macron is a neoliberal but at least the infrastructure is much better in France.

    Apparently France is now the world’s 5th largest economy “UK slips below France in global economy table” https://www.ft.com/content/7508bf1e-8a46-11e6-8cb7-e7ada1d123b1 reports of India overtaking the UK were a bit premature (of course India is much bigger in terms of PPP).

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