French Squatters Told to Leave Parisian Mansion

Last Updated Jan 19, 2010 12:25 PM EST

Ah, Paris. In New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, we complain about our housing problems. In Paris -- where housing is difficult to obtain, and expensive, yet thousands of properties sit empty -- activists take over an empty mansion.

An activist group known as "jeudi noir" -- the name means "Black Thursday" and carries connotations of the 1929 stock market crash as well as the day of the week that new classified ads for real estate are published over there -- took over the empty estate in October to draw attention to Paris' housing situation.

Now, a court tells them they have to be out by Monday.

Let's define some terms here: what's a mansion? The building the group chose to occupy is worth about $20 million. According to an article by Henry Samuel in the Telegraph, the current owner has spent 7 million British pounds -- that's around $10 million American dollars -- on restoration alone.

The mansion is on the Place des Vosges, built by Henry IV in the early 17th-century. We don't even have an area that old and swanky in America, so let's take Belgravia in London as a good comparison. For those of you who are numbers hounds, prices in that immediate area went up 145% between 2000 and 2008, according to Paris Real Estate Finders, an agency that specializes in selling apartments to English-language customers.

But it sits empty, because the owner, 87-year-old banking heiress Beatrice Cottin, doesn't live there. Why would you if you were in a retirement home, but also could spend your time on your Riviera estate at Cap Ferrat, or going hunting in Sologne near the Loire, or at your other townhouse in Paris?

And that, to the 30-some protestors (they call themselves "militants," a word that translates pretty well) is exactly the point. Why should such a grand old building sit empty? The burden of high housing costs, they note, falls harder on the young, who of course have less income. (If you want a full comic look at Paris housing craziness, I suggest Stephen Clarke's comic novel, A Year in the Merde.)

It seems the point of the protest has been taken. According to a story by Lizzy Davies in Monday's Guardian, a French court has ordered the group to vacate -- but in a sign of leniency, they only have to pay 3,400 euros (about $5,000) for every month of the occupation.

Here in Manhattan, you have trouble getting a two-bedroom for that. Maybe I'll fly across the ocean and make a social statement.

Et encore:


  • Alison Rogers

    Since graduating from Harvard summa cum laude, Alison Rogers has been a reporter, an editor, a real-estate agent, a Wall Street desk jockey, a columnist, a failed flipper, and a landlady. A member of the National Association of Realtors, she currently sells and rents luxury co-ops in Manhattan for the Chelsea-based firm DG Neary. (If you've got $27,500 a month, the firm has an apartment for you!) Her book, Diary of a Real Estate Rookie, was called "a valuable guide for rookie buyers" by AOL/Walletpop, "beach-read fun" by the New York Observer, and "witty" by Newsweek.

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