Should we oppose legally enforceable entitlements? Even as parliamentary assemblies begin to review the enforceable right to housing, Frédéric Rouvillois, a Professor of Public Law at Université Paris-V and an advisor to the Fondation pour l’innovation politique, believes that it is urgent for us to ask ourselves whether we dare to venture beyond an essentially emotional and compassionate approach.Frédéric Rouvillois offers an original analysis of the legally enforceable right to housing — an albeit seductive principle which has produced many underestimated perverse effects. This principle is appealing in two ways: democratic individualism goes hand in hand with an exponential demand for individual protection rights—a demand which is now being confused with the “zero risk” requirement. Moreover, associations’ initiatives, particularly those of the “Don Quixote Kids,” have struck a very sensitive and compassionate inner chord among the media, politicians and the population.
Article 1 of the Besson Act of 31 May 1990 stated that “guaranteeing the right to housing constitutes a duty of solidarity for the whole of the nation”; the Act of August 2004 specified “decent and independent” housing. This right is more virtual than actual, however, being a passage called for by enforceable entitlement supporters. Once the principle is affirmed, problems begin to emerge. The standards imposed by the Besson Act do not concern the 100,000 homeless, but the 7.7 million inadequately or very poorly housed. Another difficulty is that, if this right becomes legally enforceable, judges will find themselves solely responsible for its enforcement, including the imposition of daily fines for lack of performance which are too insignificant to make the government remedy the chronic lack of public housing.
Instituting a new law cannot remedy the housing shortage in France. Quite to the contrary, it may lead to cascading effects such as further closing the rental housing market and increasing the demand for home ownership, thereby triggering a new hike in real estate prices. Is France willing to pay that much?