Paris’s Critical Housing Shortage Threatens Student Welfare

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Students often occupy small apartments such as the one pictured above, April 24, 2024 in Paris. (Alex E. Proimos/Flickr)

 The City of Paris is sounding alarms over an unprecedented housing crisis, warning that tens of thousands of students may find themselves homeless as the new academic year approaches. The shortage of available rental properties, particularly small apartments, is pushing the city’s housing market to a breaking point.

“We are preparing for a dramatic start to the academic year for Parisian and Île-de-France students,” said Jacques Baudrier, Deputy Mayor for Housing. “The private sector has nothing left to rent, agencies are closing, and the crisis is exponential. We could see tens of thousands of students on the streets.”

The decline in available housing has been sharp. According to a January study by SeLoger.com, the number of available rentals dropped by 50% in a year and 73% over three years in Paris. Corinne Jolly, president of Pap.fr, noted a 12% drop in listings from May 2023 to May 2024, attributing it to a long-term degradation in the housing market.

In addition to a general decrease in rental listings, the market for small apartments, which are typically more affordable and suitable for students, has been particularly hard hit. These properties are often targeted by investors looking for short-term rental opportunities, such as through platforms like Airbnb, further reducing availability for long-term tenants.

For students, the housing shortage means potentially abandoning their studies or facing long commutes. “If you can’t find housing, you give up your studies or move farther away, and the longer commutes add to fatigue,” explained Barbara Gomes, Delegate for Tenant Protection in Paris. “More than half of the students work part-time, and the risk of academic failure increases with such challenges.”

The lack of affordable housing is a critical issue for international students as well, who may face additional barriers such as higher fees and limited access to government aid. This demographic is particularly vulnerable in the current crisis, as they often rely heavily on the availability of reasonably priced housing to sustain their studies abroad.

Several factors contribute to the worsening housing crisis in Paris. Difficulty accessing credit, increasing interest rates, and stricter lending criteria have made it harder for many to purchase homes, thereby increasing demand for rentals. According to Baudrier, Paris loses at least 8,000 rental properties annually. There were 600,000 rental units available thirty years ago, and even a million just after World War II, but now the number has plummeted to around 350,000.

“It’s been complicated for years, but now we’ve reached an unprecedented level of crisis,” said Gomes, who oversees rent control, rental platforms, and tenant protection.

The issue is compounded by the prevalence of secondary homes and vacant properties. A report from the Paris Urban Planning Workshop (Apur) revealed that nearly 19% of homes in Paris were unoccupied in 2020, up from 14.1% in 2011. Secondary residences now constitute nearly 10% of Paris’s housing stock. These homes, often kept for occasional use or investment purposes, significantly reduce the availability of permanent housing options for residents.

To address this crisis, Baudrier has consistently advocated for significantly higher taxes on vacant homes and secondary residences. “We could free up 100,000 homes by doubling or tripling these taxes,” he said.

Despite these proposals, the city has already maximized its social housing efforts. Paris allocates 19% of its social housing production to students, adding about 600 new units annually, with 850 expected this year. Yet, this provision is insufficient for the 300,000 students in Paris, many of whom require housing.

The city’s efforts to provide social housing for students are considerable but still fall short. Paris produces 10% of France’s total student social housing annually and one-third of what Île-de-France produces. However, with a total of 13,000 social housing units for students, the supply is inadequate to meet the needs of the student population.

The upcoming 2024 Olympics in Paris further exacerbate the situation, as the event absorbs a significant portion of the available housing. “This year is particularly tense,” noted Jolly, advising students not to wait until after the Games to search for housing but to start as early as June.

Looking ahead, the long-term outlook for Paris’s housing market remains bleak without substantial changes. Baudrier’s proposed tax increases on vacant and secondary homes aim to incentivize property owners to rent out their vacant properties, thereby increasing the housing supply. However, this proposal has yet to be implemented, and its potential impact remains uncertain.

Experts suggest that more comprehensive strategies may be necessary. These could include encouraging the construction of new housing, improving access to affordable housing loans, and implementing stricter regulations on short-term rentals. Additionally, fostering public-private partnerships to develop student-specific housing could alleviate some of the pressures.

The housing shortage is not only a pressing issue for students but reflects broader systemic problems in Paris’s rental market. Coordinated efforts between government and private sectors are essential to ensure affordable and accessible housing for all, particularly vulnerable student populations.

“Paris is at a crossroads,” said Baudrier. “We must act now to prevent a worsening crisis and ensure that students can find the housing they need to succeed academically and thrive personally.”

In the interim, students are advised to be proactive in their housing searches, explore all available options including housing outside the city, and seek assistance from university housing services and student associations.

Written by Imane Moumen

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