Community Land Trust: A Concrete Solution for Affordable Housing in France
Lessons from Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area
Finding an affordable home has become one of the most pressing issues facing households in European and American cities. The metropolization and financialization of housing markets has pushed up real estate prices to standards that are disconnected from average monthly earnings and inflation. This has resulted in medium- and low-income households struggling to find affordable housing in urban centers. The challenge is that the role of the federal (U.S.) and the national government (France) in the development and provision of affordable housing has changed. Some would argue that retrenchment has happened at a time when national leadership is still very much needed in financing, developing, and providing affordable housing. The French social housing model is deeply questioned for its cost/ efficiency ratio, even though the system provides homes for 19 percent of the French population. The public subsidies have decreased for 30 years, and so have the number of units produced. The result is a growing gap between private market prices and the ability of social housing programs to offer an affordable housing alternative. Absent national government financing in France, we must now explore other means to accommodate people who otherwise do not have access to the private market.
As the director of urban planning and housing policy for the City of Montreuil (pop. 105,000), adjacent of Paris, I am faced with a classical problem that many transatlantic cities encounter: the gentrification of working-class suburbs. Close to public transportation with available land due to industrial decay, Montreuil attracts middle-income families that have been priced out of the housing market in Paris. Despite an ambitious land and housing policy, strong regulations, and tough negotiations with property developers, the influx of middle-income families has resulted in rising housing prices and displaced families. That is why we decided to consider the community land trust (CLT) model, created and developed in the United States, as a possible model to replicate. CLTs are nonprofit organizations created with the explicit intent to hold title to land to preserve its long-term availability for affordable housing and other community uses. Between 2014 and 2016, the French government implemented a series of regulations that essentially transposed the CLT model under the concept of Organisme de Foncier Solidaire (OFS). However, drafting regulations and implementing a new model of housing provision are two separate challenges. We needed a better understanding of how the model works in the United States in order to incorporate it in France.
This report, funded by the Urban and Regional Policy Program of The German Marshall Fund of the United States, compares the French legal framework implemented in a few OFS projects with the two CLT cases, one in Boston and one in the San Francisco Bay Area. After a section on why CLTs are an effective solution to urban market failures in the United States, this report is divided into two parts:
Part One describes the implementation of the CLT model in Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area. Part Two proposes five practical recommendations for developing the CLT model in France, with an eye to improving local housing practice in United States cities as well.
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