Pressure builds for better low-cost Paris housing

29th August 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 30 (AFP) - Immigrants and civil rights activists prepared to hold more protests Tuesday to draw attention to the lack of decent housing for new arrivals to France following an overnight blaze that killed seven Ivory Coast nationals in Paris.

PARIS, Aug 30 (AFP) - Immigrants and civil rights activists prepared to hold more protests Tuesday to draw attention to the lack of decent housing for new arrivals to France following an overnight blaze that killed seven Ivory Coast nationals in Paris.

Two demonstrations were planned, one a gathering in front of the dilapidated apartment block which caught alight late Monday, and the other a march from a building elsewhere in the city which went up in flames last Friday, killing 17 other African immigrants.

Hundreds of demonstrators chanting anti-government slogans already gathered Sunday outside the Paris apartment building where 17 people, 14 of them children, died in a fire last Friday.

Most of the protestors were from Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal, in west Africa, the birthplaces of most of those who were killed in the blaze.

They shouted slogans accusing Jean-Louis Borloo and Nicolas Sarkozy, ministers of social solidarity and the interior, of murder but also attacked President Jacques Chirac and Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë.

They left flowers outside the building, in the south of Paris, with its fire-blackened windows.

The French government has come under increasing pressure Saturday to build more low-cost housing in the capital after Friday's fire, the second incident of its kind in four months.

The French press has condemned the government, saying it had a policy of neglect that allowed the existence of pockets of deprivation in the midst of a speculative housing market.

Sunday's demonstration was organised by bodies campaigning for the homeless and those living in substandard conditions with the backing of anti-racist and human rights groups.

Paris city authorities said that families that had escaped the blaze could start visiting new apartments in Paris Monday.

"We hope four to six families will be rehoused tomorrow (Monday) by city hall and the same number by the state," said Jean-Yves Man, who has responsibility for housing, after a meeting with the families at a gymnasium where they have taken up residence.

Priorities would be established by the refugees from the fire themselves. But everyone would be rehoused, he said.

Each family hit by the fire has been given between EUR 350 and EUR 400 (US $430 to US $490) by the Paris municipal authorities, officials said.

The gymnasium was supposed to accommodate those who had fled the flames for a single night but many have decided to stay on there rather than move to hotels and a community spirit has begun to emerge.

Counselling is available and the men, almost all Muslims, pray together in the basketball court.

Clothing is on offer and the Red Cross distributes milk and bottled water.

Food is also provided but the families prefer to prepare and eat their own meals.

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë meanwhile said though the government had requisitioned the building gutted by Friday's inferno in 1991, no solution had been found in the 14 years since to rehouse the large families living there.

"I intend, with city officials in charge of public housing, to ensure that concrete proposals are made within the coming days" to find decent housing for the survivors, the mayor said.

Officials Saturday were still trying to determine the cause of the blaze that swept up the stairwell of the rundown century-old, seven-storey building, home to 130 mainly African immigrants, in the 13ème arrondissement in southeastern Paris.

Police said Saturday "no traces of hydrocarbons", such as petrol, had been found, suggesting the fire had not been set deliberately.

Survivors said the building was dilapidated, infested with rats, riddled with cracked walls and had no fire extinguishers.

"That families -- and not just immigrant familis -- live in France today in conditions straight out of Zola is simply inadmissible," Le Monde newspaper railed.

The Libération daily said the blaze highlighted a general shortage of low-cost housing, particularly for those whose positions in society were most precarious.

According to municipal authorities, 100,000 families on modest or low incomes competed for just 12,000 available subsidised homes last year in Paris. The others lived where they could, such as in the now-charred building that was run by a charity called Emmaüs.

The provincial newspaper, the Nouvelle République du Centre-Ouest, said it was difficult to justify the co-existence "of thousands of dilapidated buildings and a scandalously speculative housing market", particularly in Paris.

The blaze broke out while residents slept before dawn. "It was horrible to hear the children's screams," said building supervisor Oumar Cisse.

The death toll stands at 14 children and three adults. Six of the 30 injured remained in hospital, two of them in a serious condition.

It was the second major fire in Paris this year in a building housing immigrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa. In April, a hotel near the capital's old opera house and major department stores went up in flames, killing 24 of the 79 residents, again mostly children.

In a biting remark, Libération's editorialist Gerard Dupuy asked if it was possible the April deaths "have served for nothing".

Sunday's demonstration was only one in a series of public protests since Friday's blaze.

On Saturday, about 50 survivors and supporters held a solemn procession through the capital to remember the victims, holding aloft a banner reading: "Republic, we only ask you for a roof."

This followed a street protest by some 300 people late Friday who called for new homes for those who escaped from the blaze and denounced the government for allowing such hazardous housing to exist.

Jean-Louis Borloo, the French minister for social cohesion, visited the site of the fire and said Friday he would act within the next few days to propose a program for creating public lodging.

The sizeable families in the burned building, many from the former French colony of Mali, said they were crammed into small apartments, often 12 people in three-room places. But they said they had no choice, with many having previously resided in squats after unsuccessfully applying for susbidised state housing for years.

"We lived like dogs," said one man, Sekou, who learned that the wife and children of his cousin died in the blaze.

"Nobody would dare put up whites in those sort of conditions."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, fire, subsidized housing, low-cost housing, immigration, Mali, Borloo, Sarkozy, Delanoë, Libération, Le Monde

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