Thanks to Anne Hidalgo, there will soon be two refugee camps at the heart of Paris

A makeshift refugee camp outside the Austerlitz Station, Paris. Image: Getty.

 Walking around the Paris's iconic Saint Martin canal these days, you are more likely to encounter tents and tired refugees than Amélie Poulain gleefully skimming stones across the water.

As the city prepares to open its first refugee camp in mid October, the number of people arriving in Paris has continued to escalate, and is now reaching unprecedented levels. And, as the French government moves to dismantle “the jungle” camp in Calais, numbers are likely to carry on increasing.

Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, announced plans to build two refugee camps in the city back in May. “We cannot accept any longer the humanitarian situation, the sanitary situation that migrants have to put up with,” she told reporters.

The first camp on Boulevard Ney, in the north of the city (18th arrondissement), will provide shelter for single men, and is due to open this month. The second will be located in an old waterworks site in Ivry-sur-Seine, a suburb south of Paris, and is set to open at the end of 2016. It will provide accommodation for around 350 single women and families.

These camps are the government's response to a growing crisis on the streets of Paris. Thousands of asylum seekers and refugees use France as a transit point as they try to reach the UK, and multiple makeshift camps have emerged all over the city. As many as 1,400 people now occupy these camps, where they are forced to sleep on the filthy streets.

Since June 2015, the authorities have evicted people from around 20 such camps around Paris: some from under railway bridges around Jaurès Metro station and Les Jardins d'Eole park in Stalingrad, others from along Quai d'Austerlitz by the Seine.

Most of the camps have been located in the north of the city. The camps around Jaurès station – in the 19th arrondissement, by the canal – have frequently been broken up by police. Refugees are taken to makeshift shelters all around Île-de-France, but many more arrive daily. Security men with dogs patrol the basketball courts below the railway tracks, but refugees continue to sleep in this area, using public taps to clean their clothes and the public toilets around the canal. They have few other options.

Hidalgo has said that the situation in Paris is “no longer tenable”. To come up with a solution, she is working with Emmanuelle Cosse, the minister of Housing and Sustainable Habitat; Philippe Bouyssou, the mayor of Ivry-sur-Seine; and Eric Lejoindre, the mayor of the 18th arrondissement.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo announces plans for the new camps. Image: Getty.

The new camps are being constructed at an estimated cost of €6.5m (£5.5m), of which 80 per cent will be funded by the municipal authorities. The first will be located in a disused warehouse belonging to the city and the SNCF railway company. It's being converted to house 400 male migrants in a camp that will consist of eight brightly coloured “neighbourhoods”; there will be six showers and latrines for every 50 men.

The number of residents is set to increase to 600 by the end of the year as there are plans to add another 200 beds. The camp will be managed by the Emmaus Solidarity Association – a group which has been working with homeless people in France and internationally since 1949.

Next to this camp will be a day centre, housed in an inflatable bubble eight meters high. Here pre-assessments will be carried out by social workers, Emmaus Solidarity workers and the OFII (the French Office of Immigration and Integration).

The centre will include a care centre and provide accommodation for new migrants for a few days, until places are available in dedicated structures. Accommodation will be in a building divided into eight blocks, with prefabricated wooden rooms for four people. Nearby, a “transport hub” will allow the movement of migrants to the accommodation and will be managed by the state.

Refugees will be allowed to stay for only five to 10 days in the Paris camps, after which they are supposed to be taken to “welcome and orientation centres” (CAOs) for asylum seekers  seekers elsewhere in France. The city of Paris does not distinguish between economic migrants and refugees, but the government does. Only those deemed to have a valid claim to asylum will be taken to the CAOs.

A man walks on the basketball court of disused secondary school Guillaume-Bude, on which is painted in French and Arabic 'Solidarity with refugees' and 'Silence is a crime, together for the dignity of refugees'. August, 2015. Image: Getty.

There is some opposition to the camps. In September, the roof of a new centre for asylum seekers at Forges-les-Bains, 45km southwest of Paris, was burned down overnight, just hours after a demonstration against the centre. The interior minister promised that, if, as suspected, it was an arson attack, the perpetrators will be punished.

Throughout Europe, the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War continues to create challenges – administrative, logistical, social and cultural. With anti-immigrant sentiment rising, the political challenge is considerable, and the situation continues to intensify. France itself has been engulfed in demonstrations throughout 2016, with truck and tractors drivers, as well as farmers and other locals, blocking the main artery in and out of the port of Calais.

Fortunately, there are many charities and other organisations trying to help. Singa is one of several groups working with refugees in Paris. It organises events and workshops to encourage socio-economic integration for asylum seekers.

“By the end of September, we will more than double the capacity of the refugee centres, from 2,000 to 5,000 beds,” the housing minister Emanuelle Cosse told Le Monde, adding that all major cities across the country had accepted the move. Nonetheless, this may not be enough: Cosse has also welcomed the idea of individuals housing refugees, because the formal centres will soon become full.

Since 2015, more than 15,000 migrants present in the Paris area have been protected thanks to the work of NGOs, the City of Paris and the Prefecture of Île- de- France. But these are only the documented migrants – just a fraction of the number of desperate people coming to the streets of Paris every day.

The immediate focus must be on continuing to provide beds, food, clothes and medical care. After that, the more challenging long term task involves creating support systems, permanent housing, education and eventually, integration.

“In 10 or 15 years,” Hidalgo said on 31 May, when she promised to establish the city’s first official refugee camps, “I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and not feel guilty for failing to help people in danger.”

Only time will tell if the city is doing enough.


A new wave of remote workers could bring lasting change to pricey rental markets

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus. (Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)

When the coronavirus spread around the world this spring, government-issued stay-at-home orders essentially forced a global social experiment on remote work.

Perhaps not surprisingly, people who are able to work from home generally like doing so. A recent survey from iOmetrics and Global Workplace Analytics on the work-from-home experience found that 68% of the 2,865 responses said they were “very successful working from home”, 76% want to continue working from home at least one day a week, and 16% don’t want to return to the office at all.

It’s not just employees who’ve gained this appreciation for remote work – several companies are acknowledging benefits from it as well. On 11 June, the workplace chat company Slack joined the growing number of companies that will allow employees to work from home even after the pandemic. “Most employees will have the option to work remotely on a permanent basis if they choose,” Slack said in a public statement, “and we will begin to increasingly hire employees who are permanently remote.”

This type of declaration has been echoing through workspaces since Twitter made its announcement on 12 May, particularly in the tech sector. Since then, companies including Coinbase, Square, Shopify, and Upwork have taken the same steps.

Remote work is much more accessible to white and higher-wage workers in tech, finance, and business services sectors, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and the concentration of these jobs in some major cities has contributed to ballooning housing costs in those markets. Much of the workforce that can work remotely is also more able to afford moving than those on lower incomes working in the hospitality or retail sectors. If they choose not to report back to HQ in San Francisco or New York City, for example, that could potentially have an effect on the white-hot rental and real estate markets in those and other cities.

Data from Zumper, an online apartment rental platform, suggests that some of the priciest rental markets in the US have already started to soften. In June, rent prices for San Francisco’s one- and two-bedroom apartments dropped more than 9% compared to one year before, according to the company’s monthly rent report. The figures were similar in nearby Silicon Valley hotspots of San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto.

Six of the 10 highest-rent cities in the US posted year-over-year declines, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle. At the same time, rents increased in some cheaper cities that aren’t far from expensive ones: “In our top markets, while Boston and San Francisco rents were on the decline, Providence and Sacramento prices were both up around 5% last month,” Zumper reports.

In San Francisco, some property owners have begun offering a month or more of free rent to attract new tenants, KQED reports, and an April survey from the San Francisco Apartment Association showed 16% of rental housing providers had residents break a lease or unexpectedly give a 30-day notice to vacate.

It’s still too early to say how much of this movement can be attributed to remote work, layoffs or pay cuts, but some who see this time as an opportunity to move are taking it.

Jay Streets, who owns a two-unit house in San Francisco, says he recently had tenants give notice and move to Kentucky this spring.

“He worked for Google, she worked for another tech company,” Streets says. “When Covid happened, they were on vacation in Palm Springs and they didn’t come back.”

The couple kept the lease on their $4,500 two-bedroom apartment until Google announced its employees would be working from home for the rest of the year, at which point they officially moved out. “They couldn’t justify paying rent on an apartment they didn’t need,” Streets says.

When he re-listed the apartment in May for the same price, the requests poured in. “Overwhelmingly, everyone that came to look at it were all in the situation where they were now working from home,” he says. “They were all in one-bedrooms and they all wanted an extra bedroom because they were all working from home.”

In early June, Yessika Patapoff and her husband moved from San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighbourhood to Tiburon, a charming town north of the city. Patapoff is an attorney who’s been unemployed since before Covid-19 hit, and her husband is working from home. She says her husband’s employer has been flexible about working from home, but it is not currently a permanent situation. While they’re paying a similar price for housing, they now have more space, and no plans to move back.

“My husband and I were already growing tired of the city before Covid,” Patapoff says.

Similar stories emerged in the UK, where real estate markets almost completely stopped for 50 days during lockdown, causing a rush of demand when it reopened. “Enquiry activity has been extraordinary,” Damian Gray, head of Knight Frank’s Oxford office told World Property Journal. “I've never been contacted by so many people that want to live outside London."

Several estate agencies in London have reported a rush for properties since the market opened back up, particularly for more spacious properties with outdoor space. However, Mansion Global noted this is likely due to pent up demand from 50 days of almost complete real estate shutdown, so it’s hard to tell whether that trend will continue.

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus, but many industry experts say there will indeed be change.

In May, The New York Times reported that three of New York City’s largest commercial tenants — Barclays, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — have hinted that many of their employees likely won’t be returning to the office at the level they were pre-Covid.

Until workers are able to safely return to offices, it’s impossible to tell exactly how much office space will stay vacant post-pandemic. On one hand, businesses could require more space to account for physical distancing; on the other hand, they could embrace remote working permanently, or find some middle ground that brings fewer people into the office on a daily basis.

“It’s tough to say anything to the office market because most people are not back working in their office yet,” says Robert Knakal, chairman of JLL Capital Markets. “There will be changes in the office market and there will likely be changes in the residential market as well in terms of how buildings are maintained, constructed, [and] designed.”

Those who do return to the office may find a reversal of recent design trends that favoured open, airy layouts with desks clustered tightly together. “The space per employee likely to go up would counterbalance the folks who are no longer coming into the office,” Knakal says.

There has been some discussion of using newly vacant office space for residential needs, and while that’s appealing to housing advocates in cities that sorely need more housing, Bill Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management Company, recently told Spectrum News that the conversion process may be too difficult to be practical.

"I don’t know the amount of buildings out there that could be adapted," he said. "It’s very complicated and expensive.

While there’s been tumult in San Francisco’s rental scene, housing developers appear to still be moving forward with their plans, says Dan Sider, director of executive programs at the SF Planning Department.

“Despite the doom and gloom that we all read about daily, our office continues to see interest from the development community – particularly larger, more established developers – in both moving ahead with existing applications and in submitting new applications for large projects,” he says.

How demand for those projects might change and what it might do to improve affordable housing is still unknown, though “demand will recover,” Sider predicts.

Johanna Flashman is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California.