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Social Housing in Europe


Brussels, 27 March 2010 | Published in Research

What is social housing?

Social housing provision in France is housing provided by ‘HLM’ organisations, which are specific actors entrusted by the state to fulfil a mission of general interest, where HLM stands for Habitation à Loyer Modéré –organisations providing housing at moderated rents. The social housing sector in France accounts for about 17% of the stock.

It is a specific sector of the housing market, which is governed by legislative and regulatory provisions, separate from common law and regulated by the Construction and Housing Code (Code de la Construction et de l’Habitation, CCH). The provision of social housing includes construction, development, allocation, and management of rented social housing as well as of dwellings for social home ownership.

Who provides social housing?

French social housing is built and managed by HLM organisations as well as to a lesser extent by semi-public enterprises (Société d’économie mixte, SEM) and some non-profit associations. Providing the biggest part of the social housing stock, HLM organisations include both publicly and privately owned companies acting on a non-profit basis and under the control of the Ministry of Housing and Finance.

How is social housing financed?

Rents are based on the net construction cost, which is lowered by subsidies from the State and local authorities and tax incentives. Housing benefits are also available to help the poorest households paying the rent. On the other hand, if a household’s income increases to the point that it exceeds the income ceiling, rents rise accordingly.

Most of the funding for new construction comes from finance loans, where the main lender is the Caisse des Dépôts etConsignations (CDC) which provides funds from the ‘Livret A’ accounts. This is a savings fund with regulated interest rate and not subject to tax. Every French household has the right to open a tax free Livret A Savings Account at their local bank. Their savings are pooled by the CDC, which pays a fee to the banks for collecting the funds and a defined interest rate.

Other sources of financing include employers’ grants and discounted loans (the so called “1% Logement”, which was designed to promote housing for employees), and guarantees from local authorities or the HLM guarantee fund (CGLLS). The typical financing scheme for an operation in 2009 was as follows: 76.5% from CDC loan (Livret A); 10% equity capital; 8% local authorities’ subsidies; 3% state subsidies; 2.5% employers’ grants 62%.

Who can access social housing?

Access to social housing is limited by income ceilings, which are set at the national level by specific regulation and vary according to the area where the dwelling is located as well as the number of household’s components. Income ceilings are set at a level that virtually includes a large proportion of the population to be accommodated in social housing allowing for a certain degree of socio-economic mix.

Nevertheless, over the past three decades the sectors has seen a constant increase in the proportion of poor households, with currently 35% of all HLM households on incomes below the poverty line. Furthermore, the Law on the Right to Housing, commonly referred to as DALO, introduced in 2007, establishes priority access for bona fide applicants in the following 6 categories: homeless; people at risk of eviction who don’t have the possibility of finding another accommodation; people with temporary accommodation; persons in unhealthy or unfit accommodation; households with children in overcrowded or indecent dwellings; disabled. The law allows for people to seek for legal redress vis-a-vis the local authority in case their request for an accommodation is not answered.

Recent Developments

Under the so called “Grenelle de l’Environnement”, HLM’s are engaged in a plan to renovate by 2020, 800.000 social Housing units in order to improve their energy efficiency. This programme is supported by the EU through the ERDF. Currently l’Union sociale pour l’Habitat – the umbrella organisation bringing together all HLM federations - has launched a process of thinking on a new business model taken into account the needs for affordable housing in France and the pressure on public funds for the State and the local authorities.