How Paris Improved Sustainability and Livability In Its Public Housing

Over the last decade, the city has made massive investments in retrofitting 'social housing' with minimal disruptions and displacement of residents.

October 11, 2021, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Tour Montparnasse

Marielle Landor / Shutterstock

New York City's public housing, in recent years seen as "a poster child of environmental injustice and government neglect," could soon receive the funding it needs to improve energy efficiency and habitability for its residents. Colin Kinninburgh examines the positive example set by Paris, a city that "has been retrofitting thousands of public housing units per year for more than a decade" and which offers "insights into how American housing authorities like NYCHA could make essential repairs while also reducing building emissions, and respecting tenants’ rights during tricky renovations."

In the past ten years, Paris has made a concerted effort to "align social housing with its larger climate goals," due in part to Mayor Anne Hidalgo's focus on improving social housing and making Paris a more sustainable city. "Some of the city’s oldest and largest developments have been buzzing with construction as social housing agencies replace everything from cracked tiles to elevators to heating systems in a bid to make these buildings both more habitable and more energy efficient." In many cases, Paris has carried out renovations without displacing residents for more than a few days at a time and without resorting to privatization, "thanks to a combination of funding from the city, state, and France’s public investment bank." At the Mercadet apartments, which required more complex renovations lasting several months, residents have been able to stay within the complex and experience minimal disruption to their lives as the building undergoes improvements such as "replacing doors, windows, elevators, and boilers; remodeling bathrooms; installing new ventilation systems; and re-insulating interior walls with cork, a natural and deeply sustainable material."

In the U.S., housing authorities face the challenge of "rebuilding trust, as decades of mismanagement and outright fraud have left tenant organizers skeptical that agencies like NYCHA are prepared to spend a massive infusion of federal dollars wisely," even if the new infrastructure package delivers the promised public housing funds. Advocates "are adamant that any new spending to restore public housing is conditioned on keeping it fully public, and not shifting tenants to Section 8 vouchers."

Wednesday, September 29, 2021 in Grist

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