High Rents Push Poor out of Paris Laws Easing Rent Control and Demand from International Businesses Encourage Speculators. AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Article excerpt

IN Paris's 20th arrondissement, a working-class rim of the city, immigrant families return to their apartments after vacations to find their furniture and other belongings thrown out of the windows to the courtyard below. The building's new owner wants to renovate it for higher profit, and so strong-arm tactics are used to get the renters out.

Not far away in a dilapidated 170-year-old neighborhood called the Goutte d'Or (the "drop of gold"), Khiter Zaidi, a tile layer, spends his days putting finishing touches on expensive new apartments. He wonders how much longer his family can stand the 120 square-foot room they have been renting for 12 years.

The neighborhood is undergoing a major renovation project, and as Mr. Zaidi notes, "The city says they want families to live here." But the Algerian and father of four says what is being built is either too expensive or tacitly off limits to immigrants. "There's no place left here for families like mine," he says.

Farther north in Montmartre, at the front steps of Sacre Coeur Basilica, Mediba Sankare camps out with his and eight other families in a tent they have kept there for 92 days to protest the lack of affordable housing in Paris.

"I have lived in Paris for 27 years," says Mr. Sankare, who was routed from his building 10 months ago when the city said it was about to collapse. Since then, he has found nothing.

"We feel this neighborhood is our home," says the print-shop worker, "but it doesn't seem to have any more room for us."

These families, all of whom pay their modest rents faithfully, are discovering what thousands of other poor and working-class families across the French capital already know: An affordable and decent home - even one with 19th-century fixtures (no shower and a toilet on the ground floor) - is becoming nearly impossible to find in Paris.

The problem is concentrated in the city's far northeast neighborhoods, in parts of the 18th, 19th, and 20th arrondissements that have been havens for poor working families, especially the Africans and North Africans that are not often welcome elsewhere.

But in recent years the desirability of central Paris as a place to live and work has opened all 20 of the city's arrondissements to intensified pressures. Laws easing rent controls have encouraged new construction and renovation, and the scarcity of land and buildings in the central arrondissements has pushed speculators to neighborhoods formerly ignored.

"We're betting on the 19th!" reads the glossy brochure of a development company that is building apartments in areas that hadn't seen privately funded projects for decades.

Although Paris is already an international city, the pressures are expected to build further as Europe approaches the 1992 single market and international companies seek office space - and convenient living quarters - in select European cities.

Earlier this year, French President Francois Mitterrand deplored publicly that Paris office and housing prices "are catching up with Tokyo," something of an exaggeration perhaps, but a reflection of how the steep price climb is perceived. …


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