Solidarity, social housing, and… swimming pools!

France is a country with a large social housing sector that secures the right to a decent home for millions, its ubiquity, importance and centrality to national debates creating a cultural imagining– not always positive– of French social housing that permeates beyond the bounds of the national. From l’ Union Sociale pour l’ Habitat is Caroline Puyol, talking about her background, the fascinating and complex system that comprises French social housing, and her organization’s social housing movie night at the festival, an unmissable window into these cultural imaginings and debates!

Article by Crispin Pownall, ISHF team

What is your background?

I was born in Pithiviers in central France. I studied law for 5 years (a long time ago now!) and I have a Master’s degree in urbanism.
I am now policy officer for USH‘s European office, based in Brussels (USH is mainly based in Paris). USH is the French federation of social housing.

What is your relation to social housing?

Social housing is a huge part of my life. It is the overall focus of my professional work, and matches up with my personal interests in social and economic cohesion.

What is l’ Union Sociale pour l’ Habitat?

L’Union sociale pour l’habitat is the French Federation of social housing, representing 732 organisations supervised by 12,000 volunteer directors employing 82,000 staff.

The role of USH is to represent the HLM (rent-controlled housing) movement and defend its interests. It also has the role of helping and assisting social housing providers in their activities.

Can you explain a little about the status of social housing in France? Is it big? How is it organized?

In France, there are 216 public housing offices, 240 socially responsible enterprises in housing field, 170 cooperative HLM affordable rental housing enterprises, and 56 SACICAP cooperatives – public limited companies attached to state-backed lender Crédit Immobilier de France, that provide loans for first-time buyers.

The housing market in France breaks down as 58% owner-occupiers, 25% tenants of private landlords, 15% tenants of a social housing association or equivalent, and 2% ‘other’ (accommodation rented to public sector employees, guest-houses or hostels and other free of charge accommodation). HLM social housing puts a roof over the heads of 10 million people in France.

You are organizing a movie competition and party, focusing on life in HLM housing. Why did your organization start a movie competition? What is the goal?

Since 2012, USH is organizing a competition of short movies about Social Housing. Each year, 3 movies are brought to the table. These movies are directed by independent artists, so are not just promotional movies on HLM!
Hlm sur Cour(t)– a pun meaning both HLM in short and HLM in the courtyard– aims at rewarding short fiction movies, animated movies or experimental movies that deal directly or indirectly with social housing. The jury is composed of representatives of USH, academic personalities and professionals of urban planning, audiovisual and cinema representatives.
This is an open space providing original expressions on social housing, be it humorous, poetic, or realistic.

Can you describe how these movies were made? What are they about?

During the movie night and party, 3 short movies will be shown. The first is Gagarine, which is about the impact of the demolition of a building on a young inhabitant. It is a poetic approach on social housing.
Le Grand Bain is about solidarity in HLM; a young woman who is a former swimming champion is going to give swimming lessons to the inhabitants of the building… without a pool. It is a very funny but sensitive affair! La Fille de Baltimore is about stereotypes on social housing.

What other ISHF events are you planning to attend yourself and why?

The program is really exciting.
I’m really interested by the housing laboratory and exhibitions. And of course, as member of Housing Europe, I will attend the conference ‘Looking back, moving forward‘.

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