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Where are France's Empty Homes?

Friday 19 November 2021

A new study identifies those communes where the percentage number of long-term empty homes is highest, in some cases over 20% of the housing stock.

We have previously reported in these pages on the high number of vacant homes in France, around 2.8 million, equivalent to 8% of the housing stock.

The vacancy rate has risen steadily since the late 1990s (6.9% in 1999 and 7.2% in 2010) ending a continuous decline during the 1980s and 1990s (7.6% in 1982 and 7.2% in 1990).

In their latest study of the housing stock, INSEE, the French national statistical office, report a further increase in the number of vacant homes in mainland France to 2.96 million, or 8.2% of the housing stock. The figures are derived from a 2018 population census, supplemented by subsequent local census studies and local property rates information.

The reasons for such a high vacancy rate are not given but must result primarily from a mismatch between supply and demand in certain areas, and the poor condition of a great deal of the older housing stock. Other factors will include delays in the processing of a succession following death of the occupant, and properties left empty by owners who may be reluctant to offer the property for letting due to French landlord and tenant laws.

Although in the past few years the French government has made some effort to redirect their housing strategy towards renovation of older stock, the new-build housing programme remains very substantial and the tax incentives that drive a large part of it remain in place.

The table below lists those communes in mainland France with the highest long-term (2+ years) vacancy rates using a cut-off point of at least 15% of the housing stock. This gives a better indicator of a structural problem in the market than the total number of homes vacant, many of which will be empty as part of the normal operation of the market.

Column 1 gives the name of the commune; column 2 the number of private homes in the commune; column 3 the number of homes vacant for at least 2 years; column 4 the equivalent vacancy rate. In columns 5 and 6 is the name of the department and region in which the commune is located.

As can be seen, in the commune of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, in the Aveyron department of Occitanie, almost half of the housing stock of 526 has been empty for at least two years. It is possible that there is a statistical aberration in the figure, but INSEE do not qualify it, and a review of the historical figures does suggest that it may not be far out.

In 25 communes on the list the long-term vacancy rate is at least 20%.

As a proportion of the housing stock, most vacant dwellings are located not in the metropolitan areas, but in municipalities with less than 2,000 inhabitants or urban areas with less than 100,000 inhabitants.

The region of Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes figures prominently in the list as does Nouvelle-Aquitaine. Even the sun-soaked region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur has its share of long-term vacant homes. The commune in PACA with the highest vacancy rate is Fontan in the Alpes-Maritimes department, where the rate is 16.5%. It is followed by Turriers in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, where 14.6% of homes are long-term vacant.

On a departmental level the mountainous departments of Puy-de-Dôme in Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes and Creuse in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region occur most frequently in the list.

Conversely, around 4% of communes have long-term vacancy rates of less than 1% and amongst the communes with the lowest long-term vacancy rates are Mougins (Alpes-Maritimes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) 0.2%, Pégomas (Alpes-Maritimes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) 0.3% and Saint-Jean (Haute-Garonne, Occitanie) 0.3%.

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