‘Housing first’ policy would have saved France €20bn since 2012, watchdog finds

14 Jan 21

Providing homeless people with immediate access to housing would have saved the French government vast sums of funding in recent years, a report from the country’s national audit office has found.

France’s estimated 300,000 homeless population is more than double what it was at the last official count, in 2012.

The Cour des Comptes said that, to date, policies have failed to halt the upward trend – which is closely linked to the large numbers of new arrivals into the country, many of whom have been refugees.

The increase led to the government spending €4bn on emergency accommodation in 2019, at which point it was housing 260,000 people in this way.

The number of people in emergency accommodation has grown by about 9% each year since 2012.

France has among the largest social housing stock in Europe, with five million homes housing 11 million people, but in many areas this is not enough to provide housing to all those in need.

The watchdog said housing all eligible homeless people “does not seem out of reach”, and would require housing around 130,000 people each year for the next five years – accounting for the current homeless population as well as the expected increase during that time.

This could save the government billions of euros, it added.

“In addition to respecting an imperative of solidarity towards the beneficiaries, the effect on public finances from such an acceleration of access to housing for homeless or sheltered people would be notable due to the savings made,” the report read.

The auditors said if a ‘housing first’ policy had been adopted in France since 2012, and 80,000 people per year had been housed, it could have saved the public purse €20bn by now.

Prime minister Jean Castex said in response that the government is committed to improving the situation of homeless people in France.

He said the government is now pursuing a ‘housing first’ model, which has already yielded “significant results”.

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