Emmanuel Macron’s policy at the time of the balance sheet. With less than three months before the presidential election, and while the political staffs are for the time being very little concerned with questions of access to and maintenance of housing, the Abbé Pierre Foundation presents this Wednesday, February 2, its 27th annual report on the state of poor housing in France. The opportunity to draw an initial assessment of the past five-year term and to plan for the next five years. And the least we can say is that the observation drawn up by the Foundation is rather bitter… “In general, it appears that housing has never been a priority for the executive during this mandate, while it is a major determinant of household budget balance”, says the report, qualifying in passing housing as “the poor relation of the five-year period”. The tone is set.
If it recognizes notable progress, such as the launch of the “Housing first” plan or the take-off of energy renovation, the Abbé Pierre Foundation denounces deeply unequal financial arbitrations and unprecedented cuts to the detriment of the most modest. According to her, the policy carried out over the past five years has weakened the main tools for combating poor housing and has, from the start of the five-year term, contributed to widening inequalities. “Whether it is the abolition of the ISF replaced by a simple tax on real estate wealth, or the reduction in tax on financial income (flat tax), gifts to the wealthiest are assumed on behalf of ‘a ‘runoff’ of wealth from the ‘first in line’ to the last, which no evaluation has come to confirm”, lists the report.
Even the abolition of housing tax on the main residence, presented as the major reform at the start of the five-year period in favor of household purchasing power, benefits the wealthiest more, since the most modest were already exempt from it or paid limited amounts. Behind, the temporary exemption in 2020-2021 of family donation rights up to 100,000 euros, for various uses, constitutes, according to the Foundation, another symbol of the refusal of a redistributive tax policy. “If the majority continued in the direction of a permanent reduction in inheritance and gift taxes, as the Minister of the Economy aspires to do, it would have the effect of accentuating the already considerable inequalities in wealth in France”, maintains- she.
Admittedly, the executive, caught up first by the yellow vests crisis, then by the health crisis, tried to rectify the situation and made several gestures in favor of the most modest: increase and extension of the activity bonus and the energy check, introduction of an exceptional bonus for purchasing power, inflation compensation, lower income tax, etc. But these gifts intended for the working and middle classes are not as generous as those addressed to the wealthiest households, fewer of whom share them. Proof of this is: according to calculations by the Institute of Public Policy (IPP), while the population as a whole seems to have seen its standard of living increase by around 1% to 2% over the duration of the five-year term, 5% of the poorest French people – those whose standard of living is less than 972 euros per month – have conceded up to 0.5% of their purchasing power (note, however, that the PPI did not take into account exceptional aids in its calculations). At the other end of the scale, the wealthiest 1% of French people saw their average standard of living increase by 2.8% thanks to the decisions taken during their term of office.
The APLs, a symbol of budgetary injustice
Then comes the painful subject of the management of Personal Housing Assistance (APL), which Emmanuel Macron will drag like a ball and chain until the end of his mandate. Starting with the 5-euro cut decided on in the summer of 2017, a measure that combined all the features of a bad idea: “a blind cut, with no other logic than budgetary, which weighs only on low-income households, decided by simple decree without consultation or parliamentary debate”, tackles the Foundation. A stupidity recognized as such by its main initiators, Bruno Le Maire, Julien Denormandie (at the time Minister of Housing) and Emmanuel Macron himself, but on which the government never returned. Worse, this cut was followed by the freezing and then the virtual freezing of the annual revaluation of housing aid between 2017 and 2019, which particularly affected the poorest, their aid being higher.
Still without consultation, the executive then abolished the APL-accession in 2018, on the grounds that it was used less and less. “The only personal housing assistance benefiting owners in a situation of poverty with high housing costs”, recalls the Abbé Pierre Foundation. A subsidy all the more interesting as it adapted over time to changes in household income to help them repay their mortgage. The aid was therefore much better targeted and finely adjustable, “unlike aid such as the zero-interest loan, which can make eligible households solvent at the time of purchase but who have subsequently become richer” , says the report.
The coup de grace was given in January 2021 when, after several successive postponements, the government launched the APL reform, now recalculated every quarter (and no longer every year) on the basis of income declared over the last 12 rolling months. and no longer on income received two years earlier. A reform “hardly questionable in principle”, recognizes the report, but which nevertheless resulted in more losers, especially among young people. “While it is difficult to plead for the return to a calculation of the resources of the beneficiaries at n-2, it is always possible to use the 1.1 billion euros thus saved to revalue the APL”, pleads the Foundation. According to his calculations, in total, these successive cuts in the APL reach the staggering amount of 15 billion euros over the duration of the five-year term, of which more than 8 billion over its last two years.
Social housing, unloved in the quinquennium
Another big victim of Emmanuel Macron’s housing policy: social housing. The Abbé Pierre Foundation denounces the government’s repeated attacks against social landlords, while the executive urged them from the start of their mandate to regroup, to privatize 40,000 HLMs per year and to save money. It even heavily punctured HLM organizations, imposing on them the famous “solidarity rent reduction” (RLS, a reduction in rent applied to tenants whose resources are below a ceiling, accompanied by a reduction in the amount of the APL for the tenants concerned) of 1.3 billion euros per year… While increasing the VAT on certain types of social housing. Result: HLM production fell drastically, from 124,000 housing units in 2016 to 105,000 in 2019, before collapsing in 2020, under the effects of the health crisis, to 87,000 approvals. A timid recovery made it possible to finance 105,000 housing units in 2021, but the objective, set in the protocol signed in the spring of 2021 by the Minister of Housing, the HLM sector and the main players in social housing, to build 250,000 units between 2021 and 2022 , already seems unattainable.
For its part, the Elysée relativizes and ensures that donors are always able to build. “The RLS has not affected the ability to produce social landlords and there have been a number of measures that have been taken so that landlords who build can always do so under good conditions”, slice l entourage of the President. In other words, the fall in the number of approvals in recent years is not linked to a reduction in the financial means of social landlords… but rather to municipal elections and the health crisis. “Today, the difficulties are more related to building permits that do not come out, than to problems of means to build (…). There is really, in some places, a lack of voluntarism on the part of local authorities to build housing, collective housing, and more particularly social housing”, maintains the Elysée, which recalls that various measures have also been put in place. implemented to compensate for the RLS.
Macron urged to defend his record
The Foundation recalls for its part that these compensations are essentially limited to loan facilities and an extension of the debt of HLM organizations. And adds that the RLS does not only harm the production capacities of social landlords, but also their efforts to renovate their park. The report also cites a study by the Banque des Territoires, which points to a 6% drop in major maintenance expenditure in 2018, before a slight catch-up in 2019 (+2%), and forecasts a drop in maintenance, the impossibility of exceeding 100,000 long-term new productions per year, and a need to sell at least 17,000 HLMs per year to stay afloat. “A very bad blow to the reduction of poor housing”, concludes the report. In total, between 2018 and 2022, the State will have deprived HLM organizations of 6 billion euros. A considerable sum which, if it had remained available to social landlords, could have made it possible to build more than 200,000 additional social housing units during this period.
The report then discusses the very timid regulation of the markets, via the supervision of rents and rental reports, in the face of soaring real estate prices (+23% on average in France between the start of the five-year period and the 3rd quarter 2021 according to INSEE). And he denounces (again) the reluctance of the State to sanction mayors who do not respect the social housing quotas imposed on them by the SRU law. A law that the government has nevertheless consistently defended, and that it is preparing to extend within the framework of the 3DS bill, currently at the end of its examination in Parliament. On all these points, President Emmanuel Macron will nevertheless have the opportunity to defend his record, since he will participate, this Wednesday, in the official presentation of the report of the Abbé Pierre Foundation. An opportunity, perhaps, to specify certain measures that he imagines for the future?
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