FEANTSA complaint against France for infringement of the right to housing

Massimo.A. Allamandola suburbanstudio at runbox.com
Sat Mar 3 04:40:37 GMT 2007

Brothers and sisters,
an important initiative by FEANTSA -
European Federation of National Organisations working with people who 
are Homeless

French speakers who like to get critical information on the content of the
so called enforcable right to housing in France may even visit the page of
or our French social movement member DAL - Droit au Logement
FEANTSA complaint against France for infringement of the right to housing
Press Release from FEANTSA’s French members: FNARS, Emmaüs, FAPIL

After the hostel fires, the crisis in the suburbs, the return of shanty
towns, the soaring prices on the housing market, the tents in Paris…

A complaint has been lodged with the Council of Europe against France for
infringement of the right to housing.

The European Federation of National Organisations working with people who
are Homeless (FEANTSA) is using the collective complaints mechanism of the
European Social Charter to highlight France’s responsibility for the
failure to ensure the effective exercise of the right to housing as
defined in article 31 of the Revised European Social Charter of the
Council of Europe.

** What does the Law say?

The Revised Social Charter, ratified in 1999, lays out in article 31 that:
"With a view to ensuring the effective exercise of the right to housing,
the Parties undertake to take measures designed:

- to promote access to housing of an adequate standard;
- to prevent and reduce homelessness with a view to its gradual
- to make the price of housing accessible to those without adequate

Through this treaty, France undertakes to act to improve the situation in
relation to each of these three points. It is an international treaty,
which places it at the top of the hierarchy of legal norms (after the
Constitution, such texts are the strongest: they take precedence over
laws, decrees etc.). In the case of France, these international provisions
only serve to reinforce those already laid out in the legislative arsenal
France has armed itself with in this area, particularly the Besson Law of
the 31 of May 1990 on the implementation of the right to housing, which
pushed the French Conseil D’Etat to recognise the right to housing as an
"objective having constitutional value".

** What are the facts ?

On average, the quality of housing has substantially improved in the
course of the last 30 years. The theoretical legal protection of tenants
has been strengthened (Law of 1989) and the social system has also been
strengthened and modernised.

In principle, everything seems to be going well, yet in practice the
crisis is worsening and the signs of its severity are increasing.

We argue, on the basis of official (INSEE etc.) and independent sources
(Fondation Abbé Pierre, the High Committee on Housing for marginalised
groups, academic research, etc.) that:

** The situation of the most vulnerable is continually worsening;

- Homelessness and housing exclusion are on the increase (809 000
- There have been unbridled housing price increases (+88% in six years
in existing housing, while household resources have gone up 24%);
- Evictions are on the increase (94 000 orders a year - +10% in ten
- Access to social housing is getting more difficult (between 1996 and
2002, the theoretical waiting time (based on number of
allocations/requests) went from 1year and nine months to two years and 3
- The laws adopted in France and the policies that have been
implemented do not aim towards the effective exercise of the right to

The percentage of the GDP spent on housing policies has continually
decreased (2,22% in 1983; 1,95% in 2004). Among these policies, however,
the money spent on subsidising private landlords is actually on an upward
curve, but increasingly without the social obligations that it is intended
to generate, and to the detriment of good quality social housing

Policies to meet the needs of vulnerable groups represent less than 1%
(0,8%) of housing policies. Yet, at the same time, political decisions
have meant that entire population groups have been oriented towards this
type of provision: 70 000 asylum seekers a year, whose social rights were
withdrawn in 1991; the 128 000 people with mental health problems for whom
hospital places have disappeared over these past 30 years (30 to 40% of
people who are homeless have mental health problems…); the 25 000 old
migrants whose foyer places were demolished without being rebuilt in the
last six years; etc.

These figures must be contrasted with the public effect created by the
announcement of a plan to relaunch 9800 places in 2004…the authorities are
aware of the seriousness of the situation and of the absence of impact, or
indeed the negative impact (the De Robien[1] convention) of the policies
in place on the right to housing.

Other European countries are putting in place the right to housing for
all, whether through a legal guarantee at the level of the individual
(Scotland) or through ambitious public policies (Nordic countries). Most
countries are making progress towards the effective exercise of the right
to housing; while France, formerly one of the leading countries in this
area, is now one of the few to be moving backwards.

Thus France is responsible for the lack of progress towards the effective
exercise of the right to housing, on each of the points laid out in
article 31 of the Revised Social Charter. The housing crisis is a
political choice. When an individual does not respect his obligations
towards the collective, he is duly sanctioned. When the collective does
not respect its obligations towards individuals, particularly in the area
of protection of fundamental rights, it must equally be sanctioned.

- The collective complaints procedure of the Council of Europe

A specific procedure, known as the collective complaint procedure, has
been established in relation to the application of the Revised Social
Charter of the Council of Europe.

It is a legal procedure which may be put in train by certain organisations
that have the recognised status to do so from the Council of Europe,
against the government in question. Collective complaints have previously
upheld against France: for example in relation to the schooling available
for autistic children.

An audience will therefore be held, to outline the positions of FEANTSA
and of the French government. Following this audience, the European
Committee of Social Rights and then the Council of Ministers of the
Council of Europe will take their decision.

** What’s at stake ?

A vital policy question : to recall that the protection of fundamental
right is not one of the adjustment variables of public policy, but rather
that it is the responsibility, as well as the source of legitimacy, of
public policy. The existence of individual rights supposes a corresponding
public responsibility.

- Awareness raising: to make the French public aware of the continual
slide in public housing policies, which no longer seek to protect the most
vulnerable, but rather to organise the smooth functioning of an economic
- A legal precedent: to create jurisprudence in a high level legal
instance, which badly housed individuals, roofless people, or people
threatened with eviction, may be able to use, when they present their case
at local level.
- A telling example: A complaint upheld against France will serve as a
warning to countries whose public policies are still too far from the
effective exercise of the right to housing. This procedure is a way of
contributing to a top-down harmonisation of social policies across the EU.

Contacts :
Michel Mercadié
mercadie.michel at neuf.fr

Marc Uhry
m.uhry at habiter.org

[1] The "De Robien" is a form of tax-based support to private landlords,
more or less without attached obligations. It costs the state more than
the construction of new social housing (HLM – Habitation à Loyer Modéré) !

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