Housing policies: Should more powers be given to mayors?
Of all public policies, housing is probably the one in which decentralisation is the most advanced, and the most effective, which is consistent with the fact that the best able to know a territory and to do so are obviously those who inhabit it. In all other areas of expertise, the means of elected officials, whether legal or financial, are supervised, controlled, regulated. But in housing, mayors have kept this essential attribute of the local sovereignty that is the building permit, which declines a local plan of urbanism on which they also largely the hand.
The fact that the definition of land use is communal or inter-municipal ultimately does not matter as long as it remains local. However, it is not illegitimate to think about the conditions in which this competence is exercised, in two respects:
- Private operators are directly affected by forms of overbidding on national regulations by local authorities (in PLUs, charters, specifications of developers etc.) in terms of choice of materials, parking, thermal performance , diversity, accessibility, reversibility or greening. Elected officials need to be aware that these outbursts are hurting property exit prices. A better consultation of actors upstream would probably limit harmful excesses, ultimately, for households.
- Decentralisation does not mean that the state renounces all regulation. But to build a different balance of the decentralisation of housing policy, guarantor of a more accepted construction dynamic, two pitfalls must be avoided:
- No uniform solutions, for all the cities and towns: each territory has its history, its identity, its dynamics, one must know how to take them into account;
- No only binding solutions (obligations to make, transfer of competences to the State or to the intermunicipality, etc.) without incentive support (help to the mayors builders-densifiers powered by real estate VAT or by the DMTO, support in engineering etc. .).
The government plans to transfer the management of aid to the private park (PTZ and Pinel in particular), at least their zoning on a mesh finer than the current zoning A, B, C. This major inflection would not be without risk: it would serve the projects of the mayors builders but also, in the opposite direction, Malthusian mayors. Incorrectly calibrated, this tool could become a factor of complexity while our support system must remain compatible with mass production (every year in France, between 200 000 and 250 000 collective housing are produced).
Housing construction: stop or again?
In PLUs and PLHs in metropolises there is a temptation to “pause”, or at least slowdown, construction. The discourse settles thus little by little on the need to renovate rather than build. While it is stimulating because it invites us to re-examine our collective choices and our practices, it also carries risks, by its unambiguous character and by its ignorance of the diversity of expectations and abilities to make of the French people. In reality, it is necessary both to build and renovate, in a balance that varies from one territory and one market to another.
The need for new housing is not fading: the population is naturally polarised in the metropolis where a large part of the economic activity is located and where the supply of housing remains insufficient while the size of the households continues to decrease under the effect of ageing, divorces and de-cohabitations. If the production of new housing slows down since 2017 (- 40,000 collective dwellings authorised on an annual basis, decline in the sales of new homes by 25% between 2018 and 2019) it is not lack of demand, but of supply.
There is still so much French wanting to find an affordable and quality offer in the city. It is for them that it is necessary to return to the production rates of 2016 and 2017. If it is not sure that the construction will lower housing prices, it is certain that the slowdown in construction would bring them up.
For this, mayors still believe in urbanity: we always need ambitious urban projects, and we have a job to do together to make the city dense pleasant and consistent with climate issues.
But each territory also has its truth: we need dynamic metropolises AND revivified medium-sized cities.
To read: Municipal elections 2020: and if we talked about affordable housing? (in French)
How to bring down housing prices?
To bring down prices, there is no authoritarian solution, such as the ceiling on sales prices by local authorities (which only result in the increase in the price of other dwellings, by the effect of equalisation), nor any miracle solution, like the SFOs which, useful as they are, will not be able to cover the entire territory.
The answer lies in a range of pragmatic solutions: less outbidding in housing characteristics, more density and more collective intelligence. At least two axes deserve to be explored: tools for the dismemberment of land and buildings, particularly at work in the SFOs, and a better association of local communities with land value through taxation.
According to the FPI Observatory, in mid-2019, the average price in France reached €4,460 / m2 excluding parking, up nearly 5% since 2018. New homes put on the market are expensive, even though developers have no interest in this gentrification that reduces their potential customers. We must first avoid accentuating the effect of scarcity. For this, we must obviously continue to build, but the development of supply will not suffice.