Until now social housing had meant to me something like a huge run-down block of flat in some bad neighborhood, with burned cars and bad dogs in the yard and dealers blocking the entry of the building. Not many people know that in Paris council houses, called HLM in French, can be found in many chic neighborhoods like in Marais, around the Champs Elysées and even on Ile Saint Louis.
As many Parisians I filled the demand for the council-owned home every year like participating in a lottery, with not much hope. In fact, living in the center of Paris has become so expensive that seventy percent of all Parisian fulfill the conditions to claim social housing. The so called middle class families have no other choice than to escape the city of lights, too poor to rent anything bigger than a seven square meter top floor “studette” in an overheated housing market. Even the former mayor of Paris complained publicly about being able to rent only a two room flat with his mayor’s salary in his “own” city.
An average waiting time for sociala bostäder is five years. However, in case you refuse the first proposed apartment you go right back to the end of the line. Once the claim is made, the file needs to be updated every year to the day. If the claimer once misses this fatidic date, the claim process starts from scratch at the end of the line.
This was my fourth update and I carefully filled in personal facts, yearly net income, last employees name and address, current monthly rent and so on. As the facts were lying there, they gave a merciless picture of a poverty-stricken immigrant single-parent family. Except that the mum was a university graduate white Scandinavian and, therefore, not called an immigrant but an expatriate. Unlike dark haired and skinned non-nationals, I was never stopped in the street and asked to show my ID papers to French police officers.
Five empty lines on the bottom of the page captured my attention: “Additional information to support your application”. It took one more day to find out the Paris social housing norms and focus on our situation in a way that all the criteria were fulfilled. After brainstorming, our miserable situation looked more than perfect: our rent was too high comparing to our income, we were far below the income cap, I had a child and, the last but not least, we were not French nationals. We were representing social mixing, boosted by Paris’s current social housing policy. All right, we’re Finns, which means even more mixing than a Moroccan or an Algerian.
Forget the lift and the carage
To target old houses in the city center (read: avoid huge block of flats outside Paris) I didn’t check the boxes “building with a garage” or “building with a lift”. I proofread everything once again and closed the envelope.
Two months later we got a letter saying that the Paris council was considering us for a three room flat just a few blocks from ours. The address was on the Right Bank, in the Marais, not far from the Notre Dame Cathedral. In fact, the city of Paris purchased the whole building block already in the beginning of the last century. The insalubrious seventeenth century buildings were saved from demolition only in order to become council places.
Dare I tell you the monthly rent for 65 square meters? No, it's better not to make you jelous.