Chart: Why the French government wants to tackle Paris’s housing crisis

Yeah, you couldn’t afford this. Image: Getty.

Paris, like most of its peers at the top of the world city rankings, has a housing problem: house prices have rocketed by over 95 per cent in the past decade. The price of pre-existing apartments has tripled.

French law requires that anything sold or rented as a “living space” must be a minimum of 9 square metres, with running water, electricity, and access to a bathroom and kitchen. But rising prices have resulted in the renting and selling of illegal spaces that don’t live up to all, or any, of these requirements.

In March, The Guardian reported the story of a man paying €330 for a 1.56x1.56m room. (In case you were wondering, that means the average person wouldn’t be able to lie down in either direction. But they could lie from corner to corner, so that’s something.) La Foundation Abbe Piere, a housing action group, estimates that a fifth of the complaints they receive come from those living in tiny, illegal residences.

There is some hope. A 2012 study by the Economist found that France’s housing market was massively overvalued, with prices inflated by around 47 per cent. The crash they predicted hasn’t come about, but, after tripling in the decade to 2011, house prices to since seem to have levelled out a little. This chart shows the growth in the price of apartments in three major French cities since 2010:

Quarterly house price index of apartments. Excludes new builds. Source: CityMetric Intelligence.

As you can see, after a big, post-crash boom, prices have actually levelled out since 2011. Between 2012 and 2013, apartment prices in Paris dropped by 2.1 per cent to an average of €8,260 per square metre.

The national government has also introduced a slew of measures to tackle the problem, including two sets of legislation meant to provide more affordable rental accommodation and guarantee a stable housing market. Under the Loi Duflot, property buyers are entitled to tax reductions, and there’s a cap on estate agent fees and rents. And under Loi Alur, you can rent out your property without checking with the city government first – good news for buy-to-renters and Airbnb hosts alike.

Paris’s city government’s been doing its bit, too. In July, it announced that empty commercial buildings must be converted into useful spaces – such as apartments – or their owners will face fines. Meanwhile Anne Hidalgo, Paris’s mayor, has announced that city councillors can no longer live in council-owned accommodation.

So if you dream of owning property in Paris, don’t give up hope. That 3x3m palace could still be yours. 

 
 
 
 

High streets and shopping malls face a ‘domino effect’ from major store closures

Another one bites the dust: House of Fraser plans to close the majority of its stores. Image: Getty.

Traditional retail is in the centre of a storm – and British department store chain House of Fraser is the latest to succumb to the tempest. The company plans to close 31 of its 59 shops – including its flagship store in Oxford Street, London – by the beginning of 2019. The closures come as part of a company voluntary arrangement, which is an insolvency deal designed to keep the chain running while it renegotiates terms with landlords. The deal will be voted on by creditors within the month.

Meanwhile in the US, the world’s largest retail market, Sears has just announced that it will be closing more than 70 of its stores in the near future.

This trend of major retailers closing multiple outlets exists in several Western countries – and its magnitude seems to be unrelated to the fundamentals of the economy. The US, for example, has recently experienced a clear decoupling of store closures from overall economic growth. While the US economy grew a healthy 2.3 per cent in 2017, the year ended with a record number of store closings, nearly 9,000 while 50 major chains filed for bankruptcy.

Most analysts and industry experts agree that this is largely due to the growth of e-commerce – and this is not expected to diminish anytime soon. A further 12,000 stores are expected to close in the US before the end of 2018. Similar trends are being seen in markets such as the UK and Canada.

Pushing down profits

Perhaps the most obvious impact of store closures is on the revenues and profitability of established brick-and-mortar retailers, with bankruptcies in the US up by nearly a third in 2017. The cost to investors in the retail sector has been severe – stocks of firms such as Sears have lost upwards of 90 per cent of their market value in the last ten years. By contrast, Amazon’s stock price is up over 2,000 per cent in the same period – more than 49,000 per cent when considering the last 20 years. This is a trend that the market does not expect to change, as the ratio of price to earnings for Amazon stands at ten times that of the best brick-and-mortar retailers.

Although unemployment levels reached a 17-year low in 2017, the retail sector in the US shed a net 66,500 jobs. Landlords are losing longstanding tenants. The expectation is that roughly 25 per cent of shopping malls in the US are at high risk of closing one of their anchor tenants such as a Macy’s, which could set off a series of store closures and challenge the very viability of the mall. One out of every five malls is expected to close by 2022 – a prospect which has put downward pressure on retail real estate prices and on the finances of the firms that own and manage these venues.

In the UK, high streets are struggling through similar issues. And given that high streets have historically been the heart of any UK town or city, there appears to be a fundamental need for businesses and local councils to adapt to the radical changes affecting the retail sector to preserve their high streets’ vitality and financial viability.


The costs to society

While attention is focused on the direct impacts on company finances, employment and landlord rents, store closures can set off a “domino effect” on local governments and businesses, which come at a significant cost to society. For instance, closures can have a knock-on effect for nearby businesses – when large stores close, the foot traffic to neighbouring establishments is also reduced, which endangers the viability of other local businesses. For instance, Starbucks has recently announced plans to close all its 379 Teavana stores. Primarily located inside shopping malls, they have harshly suffered from declining mall traffic in recent years.

Store closures can also spell trouble for local authorities. When retailers and neighbouring businesses close, they reduce the taxable revenue base that many municipalities depend on in order to fund local services. Add to this the reduction in property taxes stemming from bankrupt landlords and the effect on municipal funding can be substantial. Unfortunately, until e-commerce tax laws are adapted, municipalities will continue to face financial challenges as more and more stores close.

It’s not just local councils, but local development which suffers when stores close. For decades, many cities in the US and the UK, for exmaple Detroit and Liverpool, have heavily invested in efforts to rejuvenate their urban cores after years of decay in the 1970s and 1980s. Bringing shops, bars and other businesses back to once derelict areas has been key to this redevelopment. But today, with businesses closing, cities could once again face the prospect of seeing their efforts unravel as their key urban areas become less attractive and populations move elsewhere.

Commercial ecosystems featuring everything from large chain stores to small independent businesses are fragile and sensitive to change. When a store closes it doesn’t just affect employees or shareholders – it can have widespread and lasting impacts on the local community, and beyond. Controlling this “domino effect” is going to be a major challenge for local governments and businesses for years to come.

Omar Toulan, Professor in Strategy and International Management, IMD Business School and Niccolò Pisani, Assistant Professor of International Management, University of Amsterdam.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.