the trails of the Abbé Pierre Foundation

the trails of the Abbé Pierre Foundation

Co-signed with the Foundation for Nature and Man, a report published by the Abbé Pierre Foundation provides ideas for reconciling ecology and the fight against social inequalities.

There is not on one side the question of the end of the world and on the other that of the end of the month“, already recalled the Abbé Pierre Foundation in 2019. Renewing its commitment, the association joined forces with the Foundation for Nature and Man to produce a report on Zero Net Artificialization (ZAN) published this Tuesday.

This work echoes a state promise. Three years ago, public services committed to achieving this objective of zero land artificialization by 2050. The challenge is major: soils absorb water, allow the development of terrestrial species and store carbon. Succeeding in the ecological transition therefore requires greater attention to the land we walk on.

This requirement is coupled with another urgency: giving everyone the opportunity to live in decent housing. More than four million people are in fact unhoused or very poorly housed in France. To cope with new needs and the accumulated delay, the Abbé Pierre Foundation estimates that an annual production of 400,000 housing units for ten years is necessary. Are poor housing and ecology irreconcilable? The authors of the report are convinced: it is possible to combine reduction of inequalities and the requirement for sustainability.

Build, but less artificialize

The equation seems insoluble at first glance. “There may be tensions between its two objectivesconcedes Rémi Guidoum, biodiversity manager of the Foundation for Nature and Man, during a presentation of the report to the press. When we want to achieve the ZAN objective, we base ourselves on existing housing, but we must also build it initially in the most economical way possible.“.

If building houses and buildings seems immediately inevitable, the two foundations wish to do so by favoring “gentle densification” which they define as construction “new buildings in urban gaps, on land that is sometimes called “invisible land”: the space between two houses, the bottom of a garden“. Several French cities have already embarked on the path of densification of the urban fabric without destroying buildings or by mobilizing the interstices of sparse neighborhoods. This is the case of Périgueux, a city of 30,000 inhabitants which has launched several housing production projects in this sense.

Use millions of little-used square meters

According to INSEE, 3.1 million homes are vacant in France, excluding Mayotte. This problem is not new, but it tends to increase. In recent years, unoccupied housing has increased 2.3 times faster than the total number of housing units.

The two foundations therefore favor better use of existing buildings before opting for construction. Second homes represent 9.7% of the housing stock in France, mainly in coastal and mountainous areas. Low-income households in these areas are then logically pushed towards the hinterland, leading to the artificialization of new areas. But tourist regions are not the only ones affected by this phenomenon which increasingly concerns large metropolises.

Second homes are not only geographically concentrated. The report notes that the average surface area available per occupant increases with their age. To avoid this pile of little-used housing, foundations favor the tax route: “We propose to establish a tax system for second homes that is more attractive and fairer, by making it progressive, that is to say increasing with the number of properties and the surface area of ​​second homes held in tense areas.

Less present in the public debate, the problem of vacant offices is also raised by the report. However, the potential would be four million square meters in the Ile-de-France region. Once again, the study presented this Tuesday recommends playing on taxation, by increasing tax rates depending on the number of vacant properties held by an owner. Adopted at first reading in the National Assembly, a law to “facilitate the transformation of offices into housing” will soon be debated in the Senate and could use this economic lever.

Control rents

To healthier construction and greater occupancy of little-used spaces, the authors of the report add a strengthening of the tools for controlling housing and land prices. The Abbé Pierre Foundation has been pointing out for many years one of the problems of poor housing: housing represents an increasingly heavy burden for households, especially for those below the poverty line.

The Abbé Pierre Foundation and the Foundation for Nature and Man agree on an already existing solution. Set up in recent years in Paris, Lille, or even in Lyon and Bordeaux, rent control finds favor in the eyes of the authors of the report for whom it should be generalized to all voluntary municipalities located in tense areas. They even propose to go further: on the one hand to “strengthen the control and the amount of fines in the event of non-compliance with rent ceilings” and on the other hand to “support tenants in their recourse to the law “.

There remains a major problem raised at the conclusion of the report. To enable communities to support this movement to reduce artificialization, the system of financing local authorities should be reviewed, a system that the Court of Auditors considered in one of its works in 2022 “complex and running out of steam” .

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