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Printer-friendly 1 Paris is a profoundly inegalitarian city. Paris is gentrifying itself, becoming ever more bourgeois. By this term we mean once-vacant floor space which people mostly homeless live in without the permission of the owner, and with no occupancy contract.
It is guided by objectives of attractiveness. As we shall see, it is about removing the most visible and spectacular dilapidation, which harms the political and touristic productivity of the City of Light. Hence the need for the researcher interested in specific housing situations to invest in new inquiries if she wishes to obtain quantified results.
For squats, as for poor housing in general, these data are necessary to highlight recurrences in social inequality and contributory social factors which will remain invisible without their systematic identification in large data samples.
A quantitative inquiry into squalid housing, however, raises many practical and methodological problems because of the physical conditions surrounding the study, the complexity of the situations of the respondents, the formulation of difficult questions for respondents who do not always speak French and so on , all of which are further exacerbated in the conditions inside squats.
This is why a thorough knowledge of the field, gained through prior ethnographic investigation is a prerequisite to the implementation of any such investigation.
The task of selecting the sample to be investigated was only made possible by the close links already established with public agents involved in the Parisian slum clearance plan who were able to give us an accurate description of each property concerned, but also because residential situations had been observed visually.
Different sampling criteria were used—the state of deterioration of the building, its size, occupational status, its location in Paris, the origin of the occupants both social and geographical and the type of property involved single owner or condominium, or property owned by the city.
Ultimately, the survey sample is not representative of all poorly- or non-maintained Parisian buildings in the statistical sense, although it contributes significantly to understanding and knowledge of them. This is also the case for the squats identified. How are squatters supported, ignored, or repressed by public institutions? What do the observed differences in treatment reveal? The first relates to the dwellings in the Parisian slum clearance plan established by the City of Paris in In addition, questionnaires were completed in face-to-face encounters with people housed in poor conditions see box.
The aim was to understand correlations between residential status and discriminatory experience. Some thirty interviews were conducted with elected officials, housing assistants, social workers, community activists, and first-generation African migrant families. Living in a Squat: These figures should be treated with caution, and the methods used to conduct this report were strongly criticized for their lack of rigor Bouillon It nevertheless strongly suggests that Parisian squats are mostly located in neighborhoods in the north of the capital.
Sixty-seven percent of squatters reported in the survey of people living in substandard housing lived in the 18th and 19th districts Dietrich-Ragon Originally from Senegal, Adama arrived in France in late He worked for several years as a cook in a restaurant in the 10th district.
He gets along well with his boss, who pays him 1, euros per month, all fully declared. Adama pays his taxes, and receives regulation pay slips. Not being in possession of any kind of French residency visa compromises all access to decent housing. When he received me on June 14, , he had been living there for five years. His wife joined him in and they now have a little girl a few months old. Adama confirms that a building site is about to begin.
The impression of desolation is reinforced by the crumbling facades and countless bricked up windows. Three adjoining buildings are occupied without right or title by eighty-five families, he explains.
These buildings belonged to a private owner, but the SIEMP bought all of them on January 1 and a large relocation operation is in progress. As always, the authorities will sort out those who have papers and those who do not—the need for regularization is more urgent than ever.
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In the lobby of the building, all the mailboxes are wide open, almost none of them displays a name. A pile of mail is placed on a low wall, which people sort directly. Adama and his wife live on the fifth floor. Electrical wires hang and intertwine along the stairways. We enter their abode from a small hall, along which are piled large bags that seem to contain clothes and other everyday objects.
A door on the right leads to a tiny bathroom with a toilet and a shower. The main room serves as a bedroom, living room, and kitchen. A double bed is located in a corner, a couch and a TV face it. On the opposite wall, an electric hob, sink and refrigerator are hidden behind closet doors. There is no bed for the baby—space would not permit—and the little girl is probably sleeping with the couple, or on the couch. No table either—you would have to eat sitting on the floor or on the bed.
The apartment is very clean, very well kept. But decay is everywhere: Upon my arrival, I sit on the couch, Adama on the bed. His young wife prepares drinks—Coke and fruit juice—before joining her husband. The little girl has fallen asleep on his knees. The television shows a Senegalese broadcast, which remains on throughout my visit. I stay close on two hours with them. Adama leaves home at the same time as me, going back to the public employment agency, which he frequents along with hundreds of other undocumented workers in the hope of having their situation regularized.
A sort of stupor invades the outside observer who pushes open the door to one of these entrance halls for the first time. In the stairwell of a squat in the 10th district, the paint peeling from the walls can cause lead poisoning see box below , the staircase is smashed and a dead rat lies festering on one of the steps.
Not far away, in a building in the Passage Brady, litter accumulates on the floor, the ceilings are supported by props and some of the walls have literally fallen down. Commonly lacking all security facilities such as a door code, an intercom, even a lockable door, while being located in recognized crime hotspots, these buildings are physically highly vulnerable. It is not uncommon for the communal areas to be used by the most marginalized people—the homeless and drug users—as public toilets, forcing the inhabitants to clean up feces, or condoms left by passing prostitutes and their clients, every day.
Who Are the Squatters in Paris? These accommodations in very poor condition bring a measurable level of suffering to their occupants. Even armed with a large reserve of such historical comparisons, the uninitiated visitor who enters Passage de la Brie, a narrow wet street in the 19th district, has the striking sense of a journey back in time. A huge steel beam across the street holds the buildings up, like a rusty surgical pin sticking out of a broken leg. The ground is buckled and broken and all the buildings appear on the verge of collapse.
When you enter the buildings, the impression of decay increases still further. At number thirteen, powerful cooking odors float in the atmosphere of a dank stairwell with leprous walls whose further reaches are indiscernible. On the second floor, a group of Sri-Lankan men live with the door open. Their home is a room of square feet with space for a few mattresses on which they sprawl.
About five feet above the ground, just above their heads, there is the I-beam we saw outside, crossing the middle of the room where it plunges again into the opposite wall. The rooms are crowded and leave little space for children to play. The occupants sit on their beds for lack of space for chairs. Clothes are stored in suitcases stacked upon each other. The noise is often permanent. The walls are permeated by the bustle of the street and the activities of neighbors. In some houses, the pipes vibrate gratingly when someone flushes the toilet while the floor creaks with every step.
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Electrical installations are jerry-rigged and in places the floorboards are broken or missing. Of course, the occupants try to improve the situation with their own efforts to patch things up, but these solutions rarely last long. Painting immediately deteriorates due to water leaks, wall and floor coverings become detached from peeling and cracked plaster, while parasites abound despite the best attempts to eradicate them. The squats visited as part of SIEMP operations regardless of the paths followed to get to them are precisely those which are the object of measures concerning insalubrious housing.
Not all squats are as desperately uncomfortable as the above descriptions suggest. Our surveys nevertheless show the prevalence of discomfort in these abodes.
It is the very nature of the places squatted—often empty for years, commonly found among the oldest buildings of the poorest neighborhoods which are the easiest to gain access to, due to a lack of supervision—which explains their overall dilapidated and overcrowded state. View from the couch. The family went several months without running water in the building after a fire photo: These are essentially threefold.
They are often a refuge from an untenable co-residence situation. The squat is also a way to live with or near friends and family, away from undesirable out-group people. Family nuclei form and groups, sometimes very large, of village alliances form around them [ Faced with all the violence of uprooting, self-segregation protects the newcomer from the accusing or scornful regard of the integrated citizen.
Take, for example the case of one man from Mali, the father of three children, aged 50 at the time of the interview. He works full time as a security guard. No door was closed. When there was a problem, we felt we could deal with it as an African problem, in the Malian way [ The current passed by.
The only suffering was certainly that of our children, who were born in France, who had to make friends outside of our building, with kids who had a certain complex about accepting friends from such a run-down building.
The most common comparison made by the inhabitants encountered is that between the squat and hotels. Many squatters explicitly say they prefer to stay in central Paris, even at the price of suffering the inconvenience to put it mildly of atrocious living conditions.
Most of them associate those areas with the wrong kind of people and delinquency. Thus even relocation to sought-after uptown neighborhoods and the fear of the unknown engender a reluctance to move and can bring about a total refusal to relocate, even within the borders of the city proper.