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Can rental intermediation improve the right to housing in France?

“I like working with associations because I think it’s important. If they don’t find owners ready to rent their apartment, a lot of people end up in the street ”, explains Denise Klein, manager of a family real estate company which has several apartments for rent in Alsace, in the east of the region. France. To rent some of its apartments, Klein uses rental intermediation. Created by law in France in 1990, this social mechanism allows the State, or an approved association, to guarantee private landlords that the rent will be paid on the one hand, and to offer tenant households an affordable rent on the other hand. “Rental intermediation is like subletting.

The association signs the lease and supports the tenant in finding accommodation. We adapt to people’s needs, ”explains Sami Barkallah, project manager for integration through housing at ARSEA Strasbourg, an NGO that helps adults and children with physical disabilities and psychosocial difficulties. “This allows the tenant to move towards independence. There is a guarantee that the rent will be paid by the association and if there is a problem with the neighbors, I know that the association will intervene. It’s a matter of trust and security, ”adds Klein.

Elsewhere in Strasbourg, a notice board invites owners to use the FAC’il platform. “Owner of an unoccupied house? Rent it safely with FAC’IL! He said. “We operate like a real estate agency, but with a social vocation. At the end of 2020, we had 286 social housing units rented under a management agreement in the Bas-Rhin department and these are not just social buildings, because we want social diversity. The idea is to ensure that people are not identifiable and stigmatized, so that they can integrate into society ”, explains Gulcan Guler, project manager of the platform launched in January 2020.

Since 2010, the Integrated Reception and Guidance Services (Integrated reception and guidance services, SIAO) of the 101 prefectures of France have centralized at the departmental level all requests from social workers who manage the files of families or people looking for housing, as well as the availability of emergency housing or housing rented by associations that carry out rental intermediation. Social workers present their candidate and SIAO convenes an award committee to decide if they are eligible for assistance. To benefit from housing, people in difficulty (homeless, in collective accommodation, lodged in hotels, for example) must have a legal status, if they are foreigners, and have a minimum of resources, in particular through social assistance (such as allowances).

Once the accommodation has been allocated, the tenant signs the support contract with an approved association and the latter accompanies him in all the procedures.

“Sometimes there is a language barrier, so you have to find alternative means of communication. We will help them, for example, to register with utility providers, buy furniture or take out insurance, ”explain Guler and Barkallah. “The goal is to put the people we support in a real tenant situation,” adds Barkallah.

According to the first French housing association, the Abbé Pierre Foundation, 2.16 million people were on the waiting list for social housing in 2019. Rental intermediation is a way to compensate for the lack of social housing by entering the housing market. private market at a reasonable price. price, even if The price difference between the social and private market makes it increasingly difficult to access private housing. The steady increase in rents in this sector has resulted in an increase in the share of income that tenants spend on housingfrom 17% in 1984 to 26% in 2006. For the poorest 10% of French households, housing can cost up to half of their income (42% on average).

“Our big problem today is the housing supply. We have found that apart from social housing, there is no housing available in many large cities where the market is tight, ”explains Martine Chanal, responsible for housing strategy and innovation for the Lyon metropolitan area. Indeed, the Lyon metropolis has only 8,000 housing units to offer to 70,000 applicants. She also notes that the difference between supply and demand for housing has increased further with the pandemic. With increasing precariousness due to job cuts, the death of family members and the poor housing conditions endured by many during the lockout, the Abbé Pierre Foundation describes the social housing crisis as a “ticking time bomb”. ” in his Report 2021.

France and the fight against unsanitary housing and homelessness

France is one of the few European countries, along with Scotland and Finland, to have an advanced policy against homelessness. In addition to paying almost 18 billion euros in housing assistance and allowances for nearly one in five households (between 2005 and 2017), successive governments – regardless of their political allegiance – have put in place several mechanisms to help poorly housed people and the homeless. shelter. After the election of Emmanuel Macron, for example, a five-year plan for Housing First and homelessness (2018-2022) was launched with the goal of providing 200,000 social housing units by 2022.

This five-year plan is a continuation of the 30-year search for solutions to substandard housing and homelessness, and is in part inspired by the “housing first” philosophy. In the 1990s, Dr. Sam J. Tsemberis popularized this model in the United States, which is aimed at people who have lived on the streets for a long time, with or without medical conditions, or those released from prison, often left behind. at the mercy. for themselves. As with rental intermediation, the basic premise is that access to housing is a fundamental right, which should not be determined by whether a person stops using drugs, changes their behavior in a way. or another, or even accepts supervised medical treatment (mock “ treatment first ”). Housing First recognizes that a person first needs safe and secure housing before they can become independent.

The current Housing First plan in France aims to extend the A Home First experiment (Home first), initiated by the government of François Fillon in 2011 in four cities – Marseille, Paris, Lille, Toulouse – and made permanent in 2016 by the socialist government of François Hollande. This program is essentially based on the rental intermediation system and is aimed at people who have been homeless for a long time, sometimes more than 10 years, with health problems or addictions.

From 2011 to 2016, the program helped more than 350 people gain rapid and unconditional access to housing. The results show that after two years in the program, 85% of clients were still in the same accommodation. In addition to this encouraging figure, the data show a reduction in the annual costs (hospitalizations, legal proceedings, etc.) of care per person. The current objective set by A Home First is to welcome and support a total of 2,000 people by 2023, in various large cities.

“There are 1001 different systems in France today, but the country is moving in the right direction. I see progress. Five years ago, the housing and social reintegration centers (Accommodation and Social Reintegration Centers, CHRS) did not want to hear about Housing First. Today they are interested. There is movement, but I think we still need an injection of cash and a good dose of political will ”, says Samara Jones, coordinator of the Hub Housing First Europe, which aims to harmonize the different policies in Europe in this area.

Housing First in Europe: one idea, different methods and growing needs

Building on Tsemberis’ work, European countries have also started to launch their own Housing First programs. These programs are also based on rental intermediation, but with different characteristics specific to each country. Some reserve the program for people who have been on the streets for a long time, who have problems with alcoholism, who use drugs or who have health problems. This is the case, for example, with Scotland.

Finland’s strategy, by far the most advanced, is aimed at all people living in poverty. According to Hub Housing First Europe, there are hardly any homeless people in Finland anymore. “The government aims to reduce the number of homeless to 2,000 by 2024,” says Jarkko Jyrasalo, head of Väinölä, a small development just outside the capital of Helsinki, which was specially built for homeless people. “In Helsinki, there is only one accommodation center with only 50 beds. In fact, the more you open the number of beds, the more it will fill. We need to make a transition: stop opening places in temporary housing and instead put the money where we can make sure there are enough apartments throughout the city, in social buildings and private, ”Jyrasalo explains.

Jones agrees: “If the politicians don’t make this decision once and for all, the system will continue as it is, and so will the problem.”

In Germany, the city of Berlin has developed a more targeted approach, with a program for women – often victims of domestic violence – and another reserved for young people, in association with child protection services. These are all models that meet growing needs, because over the last ten years the number of people excluded from housing in the European Union has increased by 70%. According to last report of the European Federation of National Associations Working with the Homeless (Feantsa), published in July 2020, it is estimated that more than 700,000 people are homeless in Europe. Faced with this problem, on November 24, 2020, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for ‘end homelessness at European level by 2030’.

While the French government intends to provide 40,000 additional housing units on the private rental market by 2022, via rental intermediation, a little over a year after the start of the five-year plan, only 6,200 rental intermediation places have actually been created in the private sector. market. Indeed, the ability to attract private housing remains the main obstacle to the system, as the housing market is more favorable to the supply side (owners) due to the general housing shortage.

For Barkallah of the ARSEA Strasbourg, even if the owners are reassured by the guarantee of the payment of the rent and by the possibility of a tax reduction of 85%, “the problem is that the rent must be low, it cannot exceed 30% of the rent. the tenant’s income, ”explains the project manager. As a result, few owners of small homes, in high demand and often more profitable on the open market, are willing to engage in rental intermediation. For them, despite the incentives, the system is not that advantageous.

In addition, private donors do not always play the game to the end. They benefit from the presence of the intermediary who guarantees them the payment of the rent, the resolution of any problems with the neighbors, and the coverage of any damage, but it seems that in most cases, the owners are reluctant to renew. interim leases once the first contract ends. According to Brice Mendes, only 15% of leases go to conventional contracts, without intermediaries. However, the objective of rental intermediation is precisely to support the tenant for six months or a year so that he is then independent and integrates into the private market over the long term. It is a return to square one, which calls into question the effectiveness of the system.

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