In Saint-Quentin, France, the Family Allowances Fund (CAF) has been experimenting with a system that targets the landlords of rundown housing complexes and obligates them to do maintenance work. If they do not bring their buildings up to par, they will not be allocated financial assistance from the Family Allowances Fund.
The department will no longer pour out housing aid if the building does not meet basic standards of decency. In this way, the Family Allowances Fund of Aisne hopes to compel neglectful landlords to do work on dilapidated or otherwise rundown buildings they rent out. The method has been in place for the past few weeks in Saint-Quentin, following a 2-year trial period.
Before giving renters housing assistance, often directly used by the landlord, a specialized operator will come and inspect the state of the rented housing units. The agent will check that the housing conforms to electricity, humidity, sanitation, and fuel poverty (heating and insulation) standards. “If (the building) does not meet the criteria, the landlord’s allocations will remain with CAF until the work is carried out. He or she has 18 months to do the work,” explains Ghislaine Liekens, Deputy Director of the organization. “The renter cannot have his lease terminated (because of the landlord’s noncompliance),” she continues. A hundred inspections are projected to take place this year in buildings targeted by several stakeholders, or with a reputation for being run down. The cost of the operation is 40,000 Euros.
Does this mark the end of the scandal of poor-quality of housing being fed by public funds? “We want to send a strong message to negligent landlords and to developers in order to prevent them from trying to get rich off public funds. This is because, quite often, they fix their rental prices according to the level of aid they anticipate receiving,” explains the President, Guy Duval. “We will no longer pay.”
The public organization would like to see this type of partnership developed in different areas of the department. The program is adaptable in function of the type of housing and the number of competent local authorities, and aims to reduce “pockets of indecency in Aisne, which, we know, is an area that is particularly affected by old and poorly maintained housing.” The CAF of Aisne is one of the first in the country to launch itself into this combat. Such endeavors are encouraged by the Alur Law, but few departments have initiated such policies.
With 150 million Euros of housing aid distributed in 2014, the Aisne Department constitutes a pivotal player when it comes to housing, this much is clear. “We are working with other partners, whether they be the State, the Department, the ARS. This is because we are targeting and going after the landlord, not the housing units,” explains Ms. Liekens.
This ultimately puts double the pressure on the organization, because the CAF also supports renters dealing with the consequences of energy poverty, which are often disastrous. In 2014, the organization helped close to 4,500 households pay their energy bills that were, for the most part, disproportionate to their usage.
But after all, isn’t it true that one must invest money in order to save money? “No, we didn’t think that at all,” retorts the President. “We first thought of those families that live in terrible conditions. What better drive to action than that? When you hear about what people have lived through due to energy poverty and awful housing conditions, and then hear about the families decimated by these events, you don’t think about saving money.”
Does your city face a problem of neglectful landlords? Has any action been taken by the city to address insufficient conditions and provide renters with better quality, more sustainable housing? Share your thoughts and city's stories in the comments area below.
Original article, originally published in French, here.