By Damon Mitchell • 29 April 2020 • 9:59
THE Coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the hardship in France’s most deprived suburbs, where families stripped of income struggle to pay their rent. While some landlords have suggested deferring payments, tenants want them cancelled outright.
Designed to slow the spread of Covid-19, France’s nationwide lockdown has come at a huge financial cost for businesses and households alike. But it hasn’t stopped the rent reminder from coming.
One tenant is charged a monthly €368 for her apartment in a massive social-housing block in La Courneuve, north of Paris. Though capped by law, the rent is still too high for the woman, who has effectively been made redundant by the virus.
Aly Diouara, who heads an association of tenants in the same building, is accustomed to hearing such pleas for help. He says he has received several each day since the start of the lockdown. Set up in 2016, Diouara’s association was designed to defend the interests of tenants amid plans to demolish the block by 2026. That now feels like a distant threat to residents faced with a “vital health emergency,” and the association’s priorities have changed accordingly.
Its members have petitioned landlords from the public and private sectors to suspend rent payments for residents of the block – and for other struggling households in the Paris suburbs. By Tuesday, April 28, the petition had garnered more than 2,400 signatures.
Meanwhile, tenants in La Courneuve are still waiting for their landlords to make a gesture.
“Everyone’s just passing the buck,” says Diouara. “Local landlords and officials call upon the state, so they don’t have to cough up the money, while the state hides behind other measures, like hiking housing allowances,” he adds.
Although some tenants have accepted rent deferrals Diouara says such measures are insufficient. He points to the risk of slipping deeper into a “spiral of debt.”
The combination of large families in cramped quarters and a lack of doctors and hospital beds has left the local population particularly exposed to the virus. And while many Parisians fled to countryside residences or switched to working from home, the capital’s poorer suburbs have supplied most of the low-wage workers who keep the metropolis.
Hoping to give more weight to their demands, Diouara and his associates have teamed up with other associations from neighbouring suburbs. Now that they have pooled together, he warns that they won’t give up the fight until they have secured a “new social contract” that guarantees affordable housing for all.
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