Could the Covid-19 pandemic help solve France's housing crisis?



To deal with the housing crisis, France is converting office buildings into residential areas.  According to many experts, this process will not be easy.

The Covid-19 pandemic left office buildings and commercial centers in France vacant.

Could the Covid-19 pandemic help solve France's housing crisis?

The pandemic exacerbates the housing crisis in France. / ph: pexels

 French Minister in charge of Housing Emmanuelle Wargon said recently, the country began experimenting with converting these places into residential areas in order to solve the housing crisis.

 According to Ms. Wargon, the dramatic increase in the number of "work from home" people also helps to scale up such projects.

Recently, a study focusing on the Paris region - where is home to almost a fifth of the French population - found that after the pandemic, if about 40% of businesses applied two days of "work from home" per week, nearly 30% (equivalent to 3.3 million m2) of the office space they occupy will be saved over the next decade.

 For the commercial real estate industry, the idea of ​​turning office buildings into residential areas is a nightmare.  Because this is a favorite field of investors because it is easy to manage and getting more stable revenue.

However, even before the pandemic broke out, more than 6% of office space in the Paris region was vacant, according to the IEIF Research Institute.

 IEIF director Christian de Karangal said the plan had been discussed for many years but never led to any concrete action.

 However, this time it may be different, even if the impact of "work from home" on the use of office space is not clear.

In addition to the public authorities encouraging this transition, some buildings are becoming obsolete for office use.

However, the change is not always that simple.

 "Not all office buildings can be converted into homes," said Sebastien Lorrain, senior director at CBRE International Commercial Real Estate Group.  According to the study, only about 20% have conversion potential ”.

 Carlos Alvarez - project manager at the architecture firm Moatti-Riviere - says one of the biggest problems is natural light.

 “Commercial buildings often have large floor space so it is difficult to ensure all rooms have windows to receive natural light.  This is more likely to lead to destruction than to reform” said Alvarez.

Another problem is that buildings built in the 1970s often contain asbestos, resulting in millions of additional costs to remove hazardous materials.

 
Norbert Fanchon - Director of Gambetta Public Housing Group - believes that to launch transformation projects, the barrier lies in the local court, the building licensing unit.

 According to him, the government also needs to reduce the technical and administrative constraints that make redevelopment of buildings particularly costly.

According to the IEIF Institute, the inflation-curbing impact on the Paris office sector will take time. 

 First, employers need to define a post-pandemic "work from home" policy, and also see how much office space they can reduce.  With some 9-year commercial leases, the transition will take place slowly.

 Alexandre Chirier - head of transformation dept. at Action Logement, a group specializing in building and operating public housing - said the unit aims to invest £1.5 billion ($1.8 billion) within  3-4 years to buy back office buildings and convert them into 20,000 apartments.

 According to Chirier, what is concerned is building a balance in which accessibility, green space, open space and the quality of accommodation make people feel comfortable.

Could the Covid-19 pandemic help solve France\'s housing crisis?

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