“I measure the weight of housing in exclusion”

“I measure the weight of housing in exclusion”

In your book, you underline your very strong sensitivity to exclusion. Is this the result of personal experience?

No way. Injustice has always been unbearable to me and annoys me more and more. In the public debate, this belief of some that they owe their success solely to the sweat of their brow is rising, while we know the processes of social reproduction thanks to the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu: the importance of cultural capital in a family, networks to find shelter or a job… And it's worse when they consider others to be welfare recipients, without even considering the difficulties encountered. This discourse has led in recent years to political decisions, budget cuts, that is what poses a problem. Technically, we will find solutions to precariousness, provided we agree to build a society attentive to the most fragile. As political scientist Hannah Arendt said: “If there is no more empathy, it is the beginning of cruelty.” Fortunately, there is still a lot of commitment among social workers and solidarity among our fellow citizens.

This is necessary in view of the 2024 report from your Foundation which speaks of a “social housing bomb”. What are its characteristics ?

Housing now represents the largest item of expenditure in the household budget, due to the surge in its prices. At the same time, its production fell, due to rising rates and increased construction costs. But, above all, government savings measures have weakened the two levers of social protection in this area: APL (Personalized Housing Assistance), since 2017, and social housing, since we financed 93,000 in 2023 compared to 125,000 in 2016. Other indicators are red, such as the number of homeless people which has doubled in ten years, to reach 330,000.

Does your family upbringing explain your interest in sociology?

I was sensitive to social issues very early on, thanks to my parents investing in associations that supported orphaned children in other countries. On the other hand, I discovered sociology at the University of Nanterre, at the age of 20. Registered in psychology, I took an introductory course with Professor Marco Oberti (co-author of Urban Segregation), and I knew immediately that this was what I wanted to dedicate myself to: inequalities, relations of domination… This formalized an approach that I had started by creating an association to help with the education of gypsy families in Bobigny, east of Paris. An immersion at the origin of my thesis: “Gypsy groups in France: eternal foreigners from within? “.

What then brought you to the question of housing?

In my undergraduate degree, I started an internship in the Fors-Recherche sociale firm, where I carried out studies on housing in working-class neighborhoods in Seine-Saint-Denis, in the north of Marseille… Each time, I returned to a life story. I was thus able to measure the courage of those who get by with little and the weight of housing in the process of exclusion. Later, at the Abbé-Pierre Foundation, other trajectories shocked me. For example, this young person we met in Metz (Moselle), who had been kicked out of his parents' house. As our country does not offer benefits to 18-25 year olds, he found himself without resources and sleeping in a cabin. It took us back seventy years, to the post-war period.

The recent increase in rental evictions and evacuations of squats reinforces the threat of the street. Do you fear that they will intensify with the Olympics?

Great vigilance must be exercised to ensure that the Games do not encourage “social cleansing” in Paris and the host cities. Because we know that major events, in France or in other countries, have accelerated these practices. But this process is already reaching new heights since rental evictions affected 21,500 households in 2023.

What do you think of the bill examined by the Council of Ministers at the beginning of May, tougher for HLM tenants and more flexible for cities not respecting the SRU law, which imposes a minimum of social housing?

The SRU law (urban solidarity and renewal) is one of the most beautiful in the Republic. In 2000, the legislator asked all municipalities of a certain size to contribute to welcoming the poorest, by offering at least 20% social housing. Opening Pandora's box, as the government envisages, by including intermediate housing in the count, would be a major error. Nobody asked for it, apart from a few cities which did not want to stick to it.

Do you understand the reluctance of these mayors?

No, because the law is well made. There are already numerous exemptions and these councilors have twenty-five years to catch up. The national SRU commission is there to examine their difficulties, but often notes that not building social housing is a choice. Cities like Paris have achieved the objectives, even though we know how difficult it is to find available land.

On the verge of the end of “for life” social housing announced by the Minister Delegate in charge of Housing, Guillaume Kasbarian, how do you position yourself?

The minister's statement seemed a little strange to me, because it suggested that households with resources above the ceilings do not pay the additional rent. But this is the case. And social housing for life has no legal reality. When income exceeds the ceilings by 150% for two years, you have to leave it. We are not going to solve the housing crisis like that.

In your latest work, you describe the daily life of French people who cut corners on the essentials. Do you see a new form of precariousness?

I wrote this book for the voiceless. The poor as defined by INSEE, whose standard of living is 60% below median income. But also for low-income people who find themselves in a situation of material and social deprivation, because they absorb the rising costs of basic necessities, such as energy or food. Finally, there are fragile people, not poor in terms of their resources or their current expenses, but so poor as to be unable to cope with unforeseen events. We must all help them proportionately, otherwise there is a risk of anger rising. And ensure, to begin with, that everyone receives the minimum to live on, by increasing the RSA which has fallen short of the minimum wage since its creation in 1988.

Does an ambitious policy to combat exclusion seem compatible with the government's desire to reduce public spending?

Yes, because we have the capacity to do better with what we have, by targeting public aid. Thus, the energy shield cost the State 50 billion euros in two years, but mainly benefited the richest, who consume the most. A policy alternative would be to give more to those who really need it, for example for heating or transportation. On the other hand, if we want to lead the ecological transition, we will have to find tens of billions more in the sharing of wealth: greater progressivity in taxation on income tax and the transmission of wealth.

Will the surge also be civic?

In a society that is drifting towards the struggle for positions, the State must ensure the major balances. But nothing can be done without listening to local actors already very invested and young people mobilized against social inequalities and ecological degradation. We must regenerate democracy, by injecting proportional representation into legislative elections, by increasing the number of citizen conventions… And do it quickly, before the bearers of hatred win, as in other countries.

Have you passed on your sense of commitment to your children?

Clearly. My eldest daughter, after obtaining a master's degree in sociology, returned to studies to work as a street educator. And my two boys are enrolled in political science. The discussions at home, no doubt, weighed…

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