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. 

 
 
 
 

Eritrea’s Modernist architecture: a striking reminder of years of oppression

Asmara’s futuristic Fiat Tagliero Building (1938) was built to resemble an aircraft. Image: David Stanley/Creative Commons.

Those with an eye for architecture will notice something peculiar when visiting Eritrea’s capital, Asmara. Dotted around the city are exceptional examples of Modernist architecture, a style that emerged in Europe during the interwar period. Rejecting gratuitous ornateness in favour of minimalism, function and rationalism, the style grew to dominate 20th century design. But it didn’t arrive in an east African country in a remotely benevolent way.

The huge continent was carved up in the span of just a few decades, in an era of history known as the “Scramble for Africa”. Described in German as torschlusspanik, meaning “panic of a closing gate”, European powers grabbed as much as they could to prevent their rivals gaining the upper hand.

Having consolidated his power in Italy, fascist dictator Mussoulini looked to Africa to expand what he saw as the new Roman Empire. It was in this context that the country seized this stretch of coast along the Red Sea that became Eritrea. And it was Asmara that was going to be the new African capital, La Piccola Roma – Little Rome.

Standing at 2,000m above sea level, the capital’s location was chosen in part because it was cooler than the brutally hot coastal regions. As was commonplace across European colonies, the colonisers wanted to avoid the extremes of the lands they conquered and find places more comparable to the climates they had left behind.

Where the colonial money arrived, the locals followed and Asmara became a city of contrasts. Intermingled with the Tukul’s, round huts of stone or mud topped with conical roofs that are indigenous to East Africa, are hundreds of buildings in the modernist style that were erected by the Italian colonisers from 1935. Many such buildings, including the Fiat Tagliero petrol station, the Town Hall and the Cinema Roma, came to represent East African Modernism. But why was there this push towards the style?


Peter Volgger, an academic who studied the impact of the modernist architecture in post-colonial Eritrea, has a theory. “Colonial cities were often projection screens for modernist fantasies and were built as futuristic visions for European cities.” So what couldn’t be done back home could be done in the colonial setting. Fantasies could be fulfilled.

The fall of fascism in Europe after WWII didn’t mark the end of colonialism in Africa, as the losers’ colonies were transferred over to the winners. Britain governed the colony for a while before power at a federal level was handed over Ethiopia. It was only in 1993 that Eritrea finally gained independence from its larger neighbour; a hundred years after the Italians first conquered the region.

Yet the Modernist buildings continued to be built long after the Italians had left. The IRGA garage, for instance, which is often held up as a key example of Eritrean modernism was built in 1961.

It’s in part due to such constructions that in 2017, Asmara was recognised as by Unesco as a site of particular cultural importance and included in their world heritage list. This not only brings in money from Unesco directly, but also induces international interest and tourism. The inclusion of Asmara in the organisation’s heritage list marked a shift towards inclusivity, having often been criticised for its lack of sites in Africa. Of the 845 cultural sites worldwide, Asmara is one of only 52 that are from Sub-Saharan Africa. In Germany alone there are 41 sites and Italy 49.

Long overdue, the significance of Asmara and its modernist buildings has been recognised. Despite their architectural interest they cannot and should not be divorced from the grim historical reality of their existence. For the millions who call the city home they stand monument to the arrogant dreams of empire that consumed the country for over a hundred years.