The movement of "yellow vests" has called many expert comments on the gap that separates peripheral France from France from the global "elites" living in the heart of cities.
This social, territorial, cultural and mental divide between two components of French society that opposes everything is not inevitable. It is enough to tackle head-on the major issue of property rent and housing policy.
It is necessary to take the measure of the shock extremely brutal for the French company that the evolution of the real estate market provoked. While real estate prices relative to household income have remained stable since the 1960s, they exploded between 2000 and 2010 to reach a new plateau at the national level. In Paris, price growth (multiplied by four in thirty years in constant euros) has remained dynamic and shows no signs of slowing down. For households with modest incomes and / or those who do not own (42% of households), this evolution has meant the remoteness of city centers whose population tends to be reduced now to two categories: heirs and winners of globalization.
The surge in real estate prices has reinforced the very strong inequalities in terms of asset ownership, first and foremost because the state does not tax the tremendous capital gains made by the owners in the city center when the transfer concerns the main residence. These tax choices are questionable: they come back to justify that a capital gain made without effort is not taxed, while the income tax hits heavily any additional euro of labor income!
But the real estate bubble is not inevitable. An appropriate capital gains tax system would reduce the purchasing power of buyers already in the market and help bring prices back to a level more in line with the reality of household incomes and economic growth. Another measure would be to reconsider the total freedom of movement of capital for foreigners who buy real estate in French city centers already in tension, often not to live there.
This freedom, introduced by the European Union in 1990, is inescapable. Within the Union, for example, Denmark imposes prior authorization from the Ministry of Justice for the acquisition of real estate by non-residents. The city of Berlin, following in the footsteps of the very liberal New Zealand, which passed a law in August 2018 to drastically reduce real estate purchases by non-residents, thinks about it.
But acting on demand will not be enough. We must also support the construction and review our housing policy, jumble of expensive standards and complexity Kafkaes. Let's listen to real estate professionals and build! It is also through the new construction and densification of cities that the market will be cleaned up. Such a policy of re-concentration of cities would be compatible both with a return of a form of social diversity in the centers and with the objectives of sustainable development.
Finally, we have to face the other unspoken of housing policy: immigration. For decades, housing policy has sought to impose "diversity" on local communities: it has only consolidated the ghettos by stigmatizing social housing as a foil. As Christophe Guilluy shows, the "ghettos" of the suburbs are places of passage. It is the integration of the middle class resulting from immigration that must be supported by the revival of construction, without positive or negative discrimination.
At the time of the big debate, the question of housing appears central. It must be confronted with the courage to consider a real change of course.
Les Arvernes is a group of senior officials, professors, essayists and entrepreneurs.