The rise in housing prices is partly explained by the increased scarcity of land within cities, which tends to induce ever greater densities. But, far from being only a problem, density also makes sense as part of current efforts to end urban sprawl, as well as to limit travel and use of natural resources. In Paris, there is no desire to increase density through taller buildings nor through the loss of existing green spaces, much needed to ensure urban well-being. The question of density also concerns the proximity between Parisians.
Between 2007 and 2017, on average 4,461 new housing units were approved every year in Paris (including both new buildings and changes of use).
Traditional one-bedroom homes represent 31.8% of housing units in the French capital, which means that building optimized 35 m2 two room flats would theoretically make it possible to deliver more than 300 extra homes per year without increasing the built-up area density. Living in 35 m2 is to accept to be a bit more people in a given surface area all the while maximizing the qualities of life.
But a dense city must meet the needs of an expanded population and offer homes to everyone. If optimizing the 1-bedroom apartment type enables us to imagine it appealing to a wide range of different people, it is still not enough to guarantee that the diversity of Paris is maintained.
To be able to finance 35 m2 (with no down payment and based on a 20-year loan) a monthly net salary of at least €4,861 is required, which prevents many people to attain home ownership. The situation for rental units doesn’t look much better. In 2018, monthly rent per square meter averaged €35.13 in Paris, with rates varying between €31.13 in the 19th district and €43.52 in the 6th district. The average rent for a 35 m2 flat on the private market ranged between €1,089–and €1,523. Considering that home renters are expected to allocate no more than one third of their income to housing, this means that net incomes of €3,267 to €4,569 are then necessary.
Then remains the alternative of social housing, which the City of Paris has put considerable effort in, highly increasing the social housing supply in recent years in Paris. A couple with a monthly income of €4,861 euros (which is the minimum wage needed to be able to purchase a 35 m2) is also eligible for a social housing rental loan (PLS – Prêt Locatif Social). As of January 1, 2017, there were 52,007 one-bedroom social rented homes in Paris, but also a waiting list of 43,332 people !
In late 2018, the Council of Paris decided to establish an Organisme de Foncier Solidaire or OFS (similar to a Community Land Trust). Under the scheme, home buyers enter into a leasehold arrangement (BRS – Bail Réel Solidaire) of 18 to 99 years with the OFS. The land trust retains ownership of the land, and resale prices are regulated to prevent any speculation. Building one-bedroom homes optimized for that purpose would considerably lower the cost of buying a home in Paris and therefore open this lifestyle to a wider audience.
It goes without saying that two-room flats aren’t the silver bullet to solving the Paris housing crisis. Creating large family apartments also remain pivotal to ensuring the population diversity necessary to make Paris a living city.
But the two room apartment should not be neglected because it is seen as an investment product. Housing trajectories are increasingly diverse and shifting, and many people now need smaller and cheaper spaces during certain periods of their lives (separating families, young retirees, and so on). Small housing units must be in capacity to offer all the domestic qualities of a larger unit. Should they be revisited in an open-ended way, two-room flats have the capacity to become the metropolitan houses of the future and would fit in with the aspirations and opportunities of Parisians.