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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: À Cannes, l’expulsion locative qui tue

by Philippe Jérôme, regional correspondent, Cannes (Alpes-Maritimes)

In Cannes, Eviction of a Tenant Ends in his Death

Translated Monday 6 November 2006

Housing: A tenant pensioner dies when he sets fire to the apartment he had just been expelled from. The PCF calls for a suspension of all proceedings against tenants behind with their rent until November lst.

The Cannes fire-department answered an emergency call at 135, Antibes Street, and found, last Monday, the burned body of Albert Monjanel, aged 76. They could not say whether the victim had set fire to himself or if he became the involuntary victim of the fire he had set in his apartment. The pensioner had been expelled from his apartment the same morning, a small two-room dwelling close to the world-renowned “Croisette”.

His death was atrocious.

A cruel shortage of subsidized housing

Witnesses saw him walking into the building holding a jerry-can and a wrecking bar: Albert Monjanel, who had written to various authorities, from the mayor to the minister, about his situation, carried out his threat of self-destruction, while no one thought of stopping him. He owed 1,350 euros in back-rent, in December 2005, when, at the request of his landlord, the justice system ordered that he be expelled. The police headquarters asserts, without giving any details, that alternative housing had been proposed to him.

He was one of the numerous low-income pensioners who live on the Riviera, do not manage to pay their rent anymore, or are pushed out by landlords eager to sell their properties at high prices. This phenomenon affects many working people as well. The Cote d’Azur has been the prey for many years of a sky-high increase in the cost of housing coupled with the lack of subsidized housing.

Gerard Piel, regional communist councillor, is leading the fight against tenant evictions together with an association to defend children at risk, mentions the case of a state employee whose salary is 1200 euros per month, and whose rent is 550 euros for a studio in the old part of Antibes that the owner could sell for 240,000 euros.

This serious crisis is mostly the by-product of an overt policy to not build subsidized housing in the tourist coastal region, where 90% of the population lives, when several thousand of requests for this type of housing are waiting to be dealt with at the office responsible for subsidized housing. With two exceptions, the mayors of the French Riviera do not respect the law about providing low-cost housing for those who need it. The mayor of Nice, Jacques Peyrat, who is also a senator of the right, refuses, for example to “build tower blocks” to attain the 20% required by law in large cities for subsidized housing, and prefers to pay a fine of several million euros. The mayor of Antibes, who is a member of the National Assembly for the right-wing UMP (the ruling majority) holds the dubious record of only 6% of social housing in his city.

A tragic contradiction

The communists, furious at what happened, last night organized in Cannes a silent vigil in front of 135 rue d’Antibes, with members of the League for Human Rights. They learned that three families from Cannes could be expelled from their apartments as soon as next Monday. “Will there have to be another disaster before the government finally decides to stop the expulsions until November lst?” Communists and Republicans demonstrated last week in front of the offices of the Real Estate Monitoring Bureau of the Riviera.

The Bureau has not admitted the tragic contradictions in housing in the Côte d’Azur: thousands of empty apartments (subsidized housing too run down or already privatized, open to speculation) and dilapidated hostels or hotels which are bursting at the seams. Missing from these cold statistics are the children of families expelled from their housing, in the care of the welfare system, who don’t know where to turn.

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