Homeless in Paris

In France, housing costs more than before World War Two and recession is forcing families to squat empty office blocks. Why?

Homeless in Paris

The anti-squat

In France, housing costs more than before World War Two and recession is forcing families to squat empty office blocks. Why?

The four men occupying the disused food wholesale facility in northern Paris are not just tenants - they’re guards. Engineer Simon Lavalette and three others - a journalist, an ex-fireman and a construction worker - live in the building, which sits in a row of empty premises waiting for business tenants on the banks of the Seine.

The men face no obligation to defend the building; just being there is enough. In return, they get cheap rent: 200 euros ($260) a month, including power and hot water, and no bureaucratic hassle. Such “anti-squats” have grown fast in the Netherlands since squatting was banned there in 2010, says Hans Pruijt of Erasmus University in Rotterdam, who has studied squatting across Europe.

“Sometimes we play football here,” says the 25-year-old, with a wave towards his second-hand BMW. The first floor where the men live is freshly painted. Lavalette’s sparse room - double bed, sofa suite, and drinks tray by the window - looks out on the river and skyscrapers of La Defense beyond. The engineer, who moved from Bordeaux in south-west France in January to work with an aerospace company, estimates his rent is just under eight percent of his take-home salary; he would pay 30-40 percent to rent an apartment.

There’s no smoking inside and only three guests each allowed at a time. “It’s a bit of a shame having so much room and not being able to make full use of it, but those are the rules,” Lavalette says with a shrug. Other drawbacks: the premises have no sound-proofing or insulation. Olivier Berbudeau of Camelot Europe, the group which runs the scheme, says such arrangements don’t suit families. But they can make sense for professionals between 20 and 45.

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