One wonders whether Paul Krugman is as envious of the French system of subsidized housing (and apparent racism) as he is of their 35 hour work week.
This terrible news from the enlightened French city of Paris:
'Why does it have to come to this?'
By Katrin Bennhold International Herald Tribune
SATURDAY, AUGUST 27, 2005
PARIS Fourteen children and three adults were killed on Friday in a fire that tore through a six-story apartment building housing African immigrants here.
The fire came only four months after 24 immigrants died in a similar blaze, highlighting the plight of the many legal and illegal immigrants in the French capital who live in overcrowded and decrepit conditions while waiting sometimes for decades for government-subsidized housing.
The cause of the fire has not been determined yet. It broke out shortly after midnight under the building's ground-floor stairwell and took three hours to contain, according to officials.
About 100 children and 30 adults of western African origin were living in the run-down building in southeastern Paris, neighbors said. Twenty-three people were injured and taken to hospitals, while other survivors were given shelter in a nearby sporting complex.
Several politicians, freshly returned from their summer vacation, rushed to the site Friday. "It's an extremely heavy death toll," said Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, one of the first to arrive on the scene. Blaming the tragedy on overcrowded living conditions, he pledged a review of similar buildings.
Touré had lived in the house on 20 Boulevard Vincent Auriol since 1992. Owned by the government and managed by the housing charity France Europe Habitat, its interior was described by residents and neighbors as "unbearable." Residents were told that they would be housed here only provisionally until city officials could find them permanent subsidized apartments. Thirteen years later, Touré's housing application is still pending.
Jean-Claude Amara, a spokesman for Droits Devant, a human rights group in Paris, said the building was inadequate for long-term accommodation.
"This house should never have been anything but a very temporary interim solution," said Amara, who said he had seen the interior of the building.
The insulation was insufficient, he said, there were problems with the plumbing and the electricity, and the paint on the walls contained lead that was harmful to breathe.
The shortage of subsidized housing hits immigrants and poor French people alike as rents in Paris continue to climb. But immigrants, who tend to be poorer than French nationals, are more likely to be in need of subsidized housing and often face the additional difficulty of racial discrimination.
A study looking at access of public housing by immigrants relative to French people found in 2001 that only 58 percent of housing applications by immigrants were successful after six months, compared with 75 percent by nonimmigrants. The study, which was conducted by an anti-discrimination group called GELD, was cited in Le Monde on Friday.
Just a few hundred meters down the road from the site of the fire on Friday, the reality of such discrimination is evident.
At 150 Boulevard Vincent Auriol, 250 immigrants from Ivory Coast, including 40 children, are crammed into 77 studio apartments of about 12 square meters, or 130 square feet, each. The walls in the stairwell are crumbling and there is only one toilet and one shower on each of the seven floors.
On the fourth floor, Marie-Laurence Kassi, 22, lives in one room with her partner, Sylvain Brou, and their two young children. The wooden floor is dotted with hazardous holes that she tried to fill with stones she found outside. Part of the window is boarded up with a wooden plank.
"The winters are the worst because the children are always sick," she says, rocking her 4-month-old baby in her arms. "We have no heating and no hot water, and even for a cold shower you have to wait in line."
Kassi and Brou have sent their plea for a subsidized apartment to the municipal authority, City Hall, the prime minister's office and even to Chirac himself - so far to no avail.
Ahh, the French and its hyper-efficient national government. We could learn so much from them, eh Pauly? It's good to know that the politicians are well rested from their month-long vacation, so they'll be able to solve this problem while sporting a good tan.
ARC: St Wendeler