Scandal over cut-rate flat for French minister's aide

20th December 2007, Comments 0 comments

A top aide to the French housing minister faced calls to resign Wednesday after it emerged he was renting a vast Paris flat for a fraction of its value

   PARIS, December 19, 2007 - A top aide to the French housing minister faced
calls to resign Wednesday after it emerged he was renting a vast Paris flat
for a fraction of its value, under a public scheme designed for poor families.
   The revelation came as Housing Minister Christine Boutin faced mounting
pressure to tackle the problem of homelessness, with thousands of people
sleeping rough through freezing December weather in the Paris region alone.
   The satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine revealed that Jean-Paul Bolufer,
Boutin's cabinet director, was renting a 190-square-metre (2,000-square-foot)
apartment in Paris' bourgeois fifth district for around 1,200 euros (1,700
dollars), less than a quarter of the going rate.
   The ministry confirmed the report, saying Bolufer had rented the flat at a
capped rate since 1981, from the property management office RIVP, which
manages low-cost housing in Paris.
   As the opposition Socialists denounced the news as "deeply shocking",
Bolufer's colleague at the ministry, Martin Hirsch, high commissioner for
solidarity and former head of the homeless charity Emmaus, urged him to resign.
   "We are working on the question of homelessness and the housing crisis...
these low-rent properties should be reserved for those who need them most," he
told RTL radio.
   "We are not here to take the first pick, we are here to serve others,"
Hirsch said, urging Bolufer to "reimburse or donate" the money he had saved on
rent over the years.
   On November 16, Bolufer gave a radio interview denouncing the "lack of
turnover" in France's "Habitation a Loyer Modere" (HLM), or low-rent housing
estates.
   "As we speak, there are people in HLM properties who should not be there,
and people sleeping in the street, in camp sites, who should be," he said.
   Government spokesman Laurent Wauquiez said the official's situation should
be "remedied", while Boutin assured critics she would "settle the problem"
directly with Bolufer.
   The Paris housing authority, which recently came under the control of the
Socialist city hall, said it had written to Bolufer on December 14 asking him
to hand in notice for the apartment.
   France has an estimated 100,000 homeless people, according to the charity
ATD Quart Monde, while fast-rising property rents are cited as one of the
chief concerns by ordinary French households.

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