The Abbé Pierre Foundation estimates that there are 600,000 substandard housing in France

2.6 million households are waiting for social housing. Faced with shortages, many of them agree to live in unsanitary housing.

The window is broken, the walls blackened with moisture. The stove is on the ground and ready to cut the power. For 17 years, Belkheir has rented an unsanitary studio in Saint-Denis, a suburb of Paris, hoping to rehome it. “I don’t want to die here,” he says. It looks like an ordinary building in the neighborhood of La Plaine. In the summer of 2022, its white facade, with shabby green shutters, was nevertheless decorated with a prefectural decree reporting the unsanitary condition of an apartment on the first floor.

It is not surprising for Belkheir, 49, and his Malinois Dax, 12, who live together every day in this eleven square meter room, at a price of 450 euros per month and sometimes with a visit from a cockroach. or a rat. Everything needs to be renewed. “It’s not a life,” sums up this Algerian, a security guard at a large DIY store with wax-black hair and permanent dark eyelets.

Bias: Poverty plan, associations already disappointed - 18/09
Bias: Poverty plan, associations already disappointed – 18/09

At night, the duct tape around her window is a poor shield against the cold and the noise of the avenue below. And in his single bed he hides a musty corner, “I sleep like a dog,” he whispers. After the houses and the squat, in 2007 Belkheir pulled out this “good deal”. The place didn’t look like much, but “at the time I was undocumented, I had no choice”. He now has a residence permit. The man no longer takes a real shower: the hot water tank blows the electric meter, like the other sockets in the apartment, and the pipes leak.

One in five private homes in Saint-Denis

Around it, there is also a kitchen cupboard with broken doors, piled with curly boxes of clothes. Anti-stress medication, scattered leave. Poor housing may concern at least 600,000 homes in France. believes the Abbé Pierre Foundation, highlighted this problem in the annual report. In Saint-Denis, a popular Seine-Saint-Denis town that will host several Olympic events this summer, one in five private homes is unsanitary, or about 4,500 homes, according to the city hall.

Belkheir says his owner has always refused to finance the work. And now, “he wants me out”, squeaking. When contacted, the latter told AFP that he had already made several repairs at his own expense in the apartment, and that he should “maintain” his tenants and not “destroy” them.

“After the unsanitary order, many owners let time pass. You have to wait for a new tenant, and then we start from scratch,” Manuel Domergue, director of studies at the Abbé Foundation, told AFP Rock.

Belkheire dreams of a “normal” apartment, like everyone else: “a separate kitchen, a clean bathroom, a bedroom for me and a small balcony for my dogs”. But today, “I knocked on all the doors”, he says. Requests for social housing always come with a negative, who says he’s ready to move ‘anywhere’ now. “I don’t want to die here,” he says, looking tenderly at his old animal.

“Communities don’t have enough power to go faster”

in france 2.6 million households are waiting for social housing, recalled Manuel Domergue. Faced with shortages, many are turning to the “cheapest” market, that is, the one in poor condition, as well as the shack sellers. In Saint-Denis, 850 unsanitary homes are being renovated or rebuilt, mainly in the city center. The project will last for 20 years, according to Mathieu Hanotin, PS mayor of this city with more than 110,000 inhabitants.

“Communities do not have enough power to move faster and harder in reducing poor housing,” he lamented to AFP.

Not to mention, since the Covid-19 crisis, he believes that many buildings in the town have been “overturned”.

“Saint-Denis receives 700,000 euros from the State for hygiene services, while the municipality pays more than 2 million euros every year”, underlines Manuel Domergue. “There is no magic wand against housing,” he concluded. But at the same time, “we must stop fueling measures to reduce APL, reduce HLM production, rent evictions or keep undocumented immigrants in precarious conditions.”

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