Skip to main content

Global Cities and Affordable Housing: Paris

International & Philanthropic Spotlight
HUD USER Home > PD&R Edge Home > International & Philanthropic Spotlight

Global Cities and Affordable Housing: Paris

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, with tall buildings in the background.
In an effort to curb the affordable housing problem and prevent further segregation of the high- and low-income areas of the city, Paris has turned to converting existing structures into housing.

Paris, the capital of France, is a city of roughly 41 square miles divided into 20 arrondissements, or districts. For many, Paris is associated with romance, fine dining, museums, and cultural attractions that have enthralled visitors for centuries. Although known for its arts and culture, Paris is also known as the City of Light because of its early adoption of street lighting. With more than 2 million residents, Paris is the 4th most populated city in the European Union and was the 30th most densely populated city in the world as of 2020.

Affordable housing in such a densely populated city can be hard to find. Paris is one of the world’s most expensive cities, and little land remains for developing additional affordable housing. However, some relief is being afforded Paris residents through an “adapting the existing” plan, which refers to converting existing structures into housing. The city council plans to create more than 4,000 units; of these, at least 20 percent will be affordable, with the goal of having 40 percent of the city’s units be public housing by 2035. The plan supplements the national Urban Solidarity and Renewal law from 2000, which states that 20 percent of the housing stock in French cities must be public housing.

The Watt Tower in Paris’ 13th arrondissement is one example of conversion. ICF Habitat, the housing arm of France’s state-owned railway company, the Société nationale des chemins de fer français, raised the building 4 levels and created 19 social housing units in the new levels. The project was completed in 2021 at a cost of €11 million. In Porte de la Villette, a former car pound in the 19th arrondissement was converted into 75 units of housing.

Another example is the landmark Belle Époque department store La Samaritaine, which opened in 1870 and closed in 2005 for a massive and lengthy €23.7 million renovation after being acquired by the LVMH luxury conglomerate. The building sits near the center of Paris and overlooks the Seine River with views of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum. Construction was completed in 2021 with the creation of 96 new apartments renting from €430 ($457) per month for a studio to €929 ($989) per month for a three-bedroom unit. The site also includes luxury hotel Le Cheval Blanc, a kindergarten, and offices. Apartments in such a location normally would cost thousands of euros per month, but Paris’ mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is confident that the plan will not only curb the city’s affordable housing problem but also prevent further segregation of the high- and low-income areas of the city.

The city will continue its policy of allocating €500 million per year to acquire 5 to 10 buildings annually for conversion to build the city’s housing supply. According to Emmanuel Trouillard, head of housing studies at L’Institut Paris Region, “In Paris, over 600 housing units were produced each year by converting former business buildings over the period of 2013–2021.”

Paris, the City of Light and home to cultural and culinary delights, seems to have discovered ways to repurpose existing resources to create affordable housing. Conversion is a seemingly sustainable way to reinvent unused or dilapidated properties as affordable housing for lower-income city residents.

Véronique Chocron. 2022. “‘Adapting the existing’: Paris' plan to reach 40% affordable housing by 2035,” Le Monde, 22 November. Accessed 18 September 2023; Feargus O’Sullivan. 2021. “For Lucky Few, Paris Debuts Public Housing in a Pricey Landmark,” Bloomberg CityLab,  25 September. Accessed 18 September 2023; Arthur Acolin. 2021. “The public sector plays an important role in supporting French renters,” case study, Brookings Institution, 20 April. Accessed 18 September 2023; Colin Kinniburgh. 2020. “Paris's new public housing push aims to offset soaring rents,” France 24, 3 November. Accessed 18 September 2023. ×

Published Date: 3 October 2023

The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.