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Local Matters / Changing Landscape

Could Paris’ Housing Shortage Be Solved with Rooms with a View?

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The quintessentially Parisian chambre de bonne is part of a comprehensive strategy by the city mayor to help quell spiralling rents. Thousands of the tiny loft rooms will be converted into units of affordable housing over the next four years.

Originally the sleeping quarters for maids to the bourgeois families who lived on the floors below, these top-story rooms were small, quirky, with no running water and accessible only by a service staircase. Today, these rooms with a view on the rooftops of Paris are rented out to workers or students unable to afford more expensive accommodations in the city. Sometimes in very poor condition, other times they are joined together to form larger spaces, outfittted with running water and kitchennettes, and (as long as they are larger than 9m2) turned into upscale studios for guests, to rent, or sold as self-standing units by their owners.

Anne Hidalgo’s second in command, Ian Brossat, laid out the mayor’s plans for unused chambres de bonne in his announcement in early October. Besides helping to tackle the housing crisis itself, the plan is to improve the unsuitable living conditions of many of these makeshift apartments.

According to a study by APUR (the Paris Urban Planning Agency), 51% of Paris’ chambres de bonne are under 9m2 and thus technically illegal to rent out in Paris as apartments in the first place. APUR found an official occupancy rate of only 12% citywide. However, they are often rented out in violation of regulatory standards. For example, the rent caps enacted in summer 2015 are most routinely ignored with these small, top-floor accommodations.

A three-pronged strategy

According to the city’s plan, landlords will be given financial aid to renovate and refurbish the rooms to make them fit for living. If they are too small, they can be consolidated into larger apartments. Up to €14,000 will be available for each room. This is part of the wider Multiloc initiative announced last year, which is aimed at helping landlords rent out their free space.

Second, beginning in 2017, a cadre of young civil servants will scour Paris apartment blocks to identify exploited tenants in these apartments and help them to find alternative housing. This will hopefully free up the residences to be renovated or converted into larger accommodation.

Lastly, hundreds of these rooms will be bought by the city hall, with a budget of 10 million Euros set aside for the operation. The purchases will either be by mutual consent with landlords, or imposed on them in cases of flagrant disregard of standards and rent caps.

The finer points will be discussed at the convening of the Council of Paris, in November 2017.

image © Wikicommons

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