Today, Paris police descended on two of what will ultimately be 60 buildings that the government intends to shut down. They dragged the mostly African residents--almost all of them squatters--out of their homes and packed them in vans to be sent to temporary accomodations elsewhere in the city. The eviction is in response to two building fires that left 24 people dead, 18 of them children.
Local political leaders say the federal government is wrong to summarily evict the squatters. Roger Madec, mayor of the 19th district in northeast Paris, termed the evictions a "miserable operation," according to the Associated Press. He insisted that one of the buildings, which was in his arrondisement, was completely safe.
Indeed, authorities have suggested that one of the recent fires was arson. The other, police have said, was an accident.
So why the drive against squatters, which was ordered by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy?
"Sarkozy, I don't know if he has children," Aoua Sila, a female squatter, told the AP. "What he is doing right now, we'd never do this to mothers or fathers of children!"
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said yesterday that the government would rapidly build 28,000 units, and cede to the city land set aside for Paris' failed bid to host the 2012 Olympics -- if municipal authorities agree to build 3,000 temporary and student housing units on it within 18 months. However, Paris' Mayor Bertrand Delanoe told the AP that the timetable was "simply not realistic."
It would be better (and more cost-effective) to work with the squatters to improve the structures where they have established their homes. Vacating these buildings is only enriching landlords and punishing tenants.
This article from the International Herald Tribune tells more about the squatter reality in Paris. Get this: According to the article many of the people in one of the buildings that burned had housing applications pending with the City for 14 years. Meanwhile, they were crammed in a rundown building with aging plumbing and electrical wiring. When they moved in, city authorities had assured them that they would not be staying longer than three years. That was in 1991.
And now the French government is just evicting everyone? Whatever happened to liberte, egalite, fraternite?