Integrating devalorized social housing neighbourhoods to the property market:  a contribution to the study of the French urban renewal policy through an urban political economy lens



Urban renewal, housing, property market, urban rent , grands ensembles




Since the early 2000s in France, many social housing neighbourhoods, mostly built between the 1950s and the 1970s, have been the target of a substantial urban renewal policy (known as “rénovation urbaine”), led by a state agency established for this purpose in 2004. This urban renewal policy aims at addressing some of the problems which have been pointed out since the late 1970s in the “grands ensembles” neighbourhoods, spanning over more than 20 years of the so-called “politique de la ville”, which involved special actions and funds for these areas. The latter are regarded as affected by social, economic and spatial issues, that the urban renewal policy intends to tackle through the extensive demolition of social housing estates and the rebuilding of a diversified housing tenure, intended to attract a different – whiter, richer – population into these previously deprived and degraded areas (Lelévrier, 2023).

While the material and social effects of this policy have been studied by many authors, there is a need for further exploration into how urban renewal projects alter the urban production mode of these social housing neighbourhoods. Drawing on an urban political economy framework, I consider that the current French urban renewal policy involves the creation of diverse urban rents in areas that were going through devalorization and degradation processes. As it transforms the social housing supply and incorporates private housing in these neighbourhoods, this policy can be seen as integrating to the property market areas that have been for decades out of reach for private developers. From that point of view, this policy can be compared with urban renewal programs implemented in the United States, whose goal relies in taking advantage of degradation processes and of the formation of rent gaps to extract urban value in poor and racialized neighbourhoods (Smith, 1996; Weber, 2002).

In this contribution, I will first demonstrate that the current urban renewal policy in France uses terms and forms of action on the housing supply, on the urban development and on the social tenure which date back to the 1980s-1990s “politique de la ville”. Nonetheless, despite some ideological and operational continuity, the current urban renewal policy has introduced a totally new principle of intervention in these areas, predicated on the contribution of property developers to the housing diversification. Through archival research focused on a “grand ensemble” neighbourhood of Saint-Etienne, I will discuss how the very notion of housing and social diversification has evolved, since the 2000s, enhancing the shift towards the opening of public housing areas to private real estate operators.

Subsequently, this contribution brings to light the production of land rents through the urban renewal process within two different territorial contexts: a dynamic property market in Alfortville, in the Paris region, and a less attractive area in the post-industrial town of Saint-Etienne. Drawing on a graduate and PhD research based on the analysis of planning documents and semi-structured interviews with professionals involved in these urban renewal projects, I will insist on the mechanisms which contribute to create successive rents on former publicly owned lands, starting from the demolition of social housing estates and then through the sale (and resale) of a new private housing offer.

Author Biography

  • Pauline Gali, Université Jean Monnet - Saint-Etienne

    PhD candidate in Urban Planning, Université Jean Monnet, Saint-Etienne

    Laboratoire Triangle


Lelévrier, C. (2023) ‘Privatization of large housing estates in France: towards spatial and residential fragmentation’, Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, 38(1), pp. 199–217.

Smith, N. (1996) The new urban frontier: gentrification and the revanchist city. London ; New York: Routledge.

Weber, R. (2002) ‘Extracting Value from the City: Neoliberalism and Urban Redevelopment’, Antipode, 34(3), pp. 519–540.