[EN] Configurations of Squats in Paris and the Ile-de-France Region: diversity of goals and resources

A chapter from Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles

Configurations of Squats in Paris and the Ile-de-France Region: diversity of goals and resources

* This chapter comes from a paper presented at the SqEK meeting which
took place in Berlin, 29-31 March 2011, in “New Yorck” Squat and from
a paper presented at the 7th Conference of Social Sciences, CEU, Budapest,
May 2011 (also published in http://blogs.sciences-po.fr/recherche-villes/
files/2011/05/WP_Aguilera_2011-03.pdf). I thank the researchers and ac-
tivists for their remarks and comments.

Thomas Aguilera

The latest national survey on housing (Annual Report of
Fondation Abbé Pierre, 2011) shows that in France more than 3.6 mil-
lion people live in precarious housing conditions. Among them, more
than 600,000 people do not have a roof. Paris is one of the densest
European capitals and space is a rare resource. However, paradoxical-
ly, we estimate that 9% of the housing in Paris is vacant (more than
120,000 vacant houses). Many housing associations and organiza-
tions, and above all squatters, denounce this situation. Likewise, there
is also a huge problem of a lack of cultural spaces in Paris. Some surveys
show that an artist has to wait more than 30 years to get a workshop
and that the city council only assigns 6 workshops per year (Langlois-
Mallet, 2008; Lextrait, 2001). In this context, squatting could be seen
as a solution to these problems. It lets inhabitants acquire a house or
a workshop. In fact, there were more than 2,000 squatters in Paris in
June 2010 (Aguilera, 2010). They live in an illegal place. Sometimes,
social centers propose an alternative way of occupying urban space:
they develop cultural and social activities beyond the traditional and
institutional policies. They can also be an open place where people can
talk about politics. Nevertheless, the squat is also a problem for public
actors and urban planners. On the one hand, in France, private prop-
erty is fundamental and constitutionally protected. It means that the
juridical institutions cannot allow an illegal occupation if an owner
complains. On the other hand, the right to housing is also fundamen-
tal (even if it is lower than the right to property in the hierarchy of
the French Constitution). The squat becomes a public problem built
within the tension between these two rights.

How can we explain the persistence of squatting? During the spring
of 2010, more than 21 squats existed in Paris and we can have all the
reason to believe that they just represent the visible part of a shadowy
phenomenon. Understanding the role of disorder enables us to under-
stand how the national and city governments try to build and preserve
public order. The policy makers have to bargain with squatters because
they are part of multilevel urban governance including the federal gov-
ernment, the police, the municipality, the real estate investors, the pub-
lic housing developers, and the owners. Although the squat is an illegal
settlement, it is recognized by authorities to contribute to the life and
the development of the city. A squat could be generally defined as an
unsanctioned, collective or individual, occupation of a building in or-
der to live or develop activities in it without the consent of the owner.
Different types of squats exist and each scholar working on squats gives
his own typology: Cécile Péchu (Péchu, 2010), Florence Bouillon
(Bouillon, 2009) and Hans Pruijt (Pruijt, 2004) all deploy their own.

In this paper, we address all kind of squats precisely in order to under-
stand the different configurations of settlements. We present in this
chapter the different configurations of squats in Paris and the surround-
ing region, and the relationships between squatters and local officials.
In the first section, we present the data and the methodological ap-
proach (I). In the second section, we present squatting as a challenge to
urban policies: the squat is at the same time a roof, a tool for advocating
the strengthening of the right to housing and a critique against housing
and cultural policies (II). Finally we present the different configurations
of squats in Paris (III).

I. Data and locations of squats in Paris and
the Ile-de-France Region

We chose to take into account all types of squats based on the juridi-
cal definition. We built up a database containing 60 squats since 2001,
the year of the election of the new socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoë,
of which 21 remained open in 2010. In Paris, we classified 17 “artistic”
squats, two “political and activist” squats, two “emergency and precari-
ous” squats. First, we adopted an ethnographic approach (observation,
participant observation and interviews) in order to document the world
of squatting in Paris and to understand the functioning of the collec-
tives and above all the relationships between squatters, humanitarian,
nongovernmental organizations and associations defending the hous-
ing right, officials, lawyers, housing developers, and neighbors. Then,
we conducted interviews with officials, local representatives from the
city council, urban developers, and lawyers. We spent more than 130
hours of directly observing and conducted 39 interviews over 65 hours
with: 15 squatters; one homeless person; three merchants; one neigh-
bor of a squat; the housing department director of the city council of
Paris (twice) ; the culture department director of Paris; one local deputy
mayor ; one local urban planning deputy mayor ; four police command-
ers ; one lawyer ; one local social worker ; one journalist ; the director of
the mission “Squat et Rave” of Médecins du Monde ; the director of the
Fondation Abbé Pierre  ; two association leaders ; one director of security
for a social housing developer ; two directors of the GPIS (Groupement
Parisien Interbailleurs de Surveillance / Security Organization for the
Housing Developers of Paris). We also did a daily review of national
(Le Monde, Libération) and local (Le Parisien) newspapers and websites
(squat.net, Rue 89, Mediapart) in order to update my database.

1.1. The geography of squats in Paris: the poorest part of the

At the very beginning of the research, we strove to update our view of
squatting in Paris. Indeed, during the interviews we realized that no one
was able to present current data: where are the squats? How many
squatters live in Paris? Each actor had a part of the answer because they
Configurations of Squats in Paris and the Ile-de-France Region | 213
had to deal with a particular matter. We thus tried to pool all the infor-
mation needed together in order to give an updated landscape of squats
in Paris. A quantitative work enabled us to confront and confirm some
of our hypothesis. The second objective of this qualitative and quantita-
tive work was to develop a geographical analysis of the squatting phe-
nomena in Paris. We built maps in order to understand the different
logic both of the squatters and the officials in charge of creating and
executing housing and cultural policies.

This map lets us understand some of the logics at work. Most of the
squats are in the north and east of Paris on the right side of the Seine.
The 18th district is the poorest of Paris. The median annual wage per
family is 16,766 Euros while in Paris as a whole it is 23,293 Euros
(INSEE, 2007). The buildings are old and much more damaged com-
pared to the other districts of Paris. Indeed, 72,7% of the houses are
in buildings which were built before 1949 (63% for Paris) (INSEE,
2006). Many important renovation and building programs have been
implemented in the 2000s in order to provide affordable public hous-
ing. Nevertheless, during the renovation programs many buildings stay
vacant and provide good opportunity for squatters. Thus, the social
composition and the housing context in the 18th district have allowed
squatters (precarious families, drug addicts, immigrants but also artists)
to use these spaces to live. This district is also the drug market of Paris
and attracts many drug addicts. The renovation programs implemented
by social developers caused the eviction of squatters and their transfer
in the north of Paris (Porte de la Chapelle). Nevertheless, in March 2010
the eviction of the last squat in the north pushed squatters to return
to the 18th. We find many squats in the 19th district where there are
many vacant spaces and Brownfield sites that squatters have easily oc-
cupied. Many artists live in this district and there is a large and active
cultural life (and the local city councils sometimes support them). The
13th district hosted many squats during the 2000s (les Frigos, l’Atoll 13,
la Glacière, le Barbizon) but the renovation programs and the intense
surveillance built around social housings has successfully prevented
new squatting.

1.2. Squats of public housing at the regional scale

The squats in Paris are mainly what we call “activity” squats which are
predominantly composed of social centers and artists. They represent
up to 80% of the “visible” squats in Paris City. The rest of the occupa-
tions are made up of “emergency and precarious” (10%) and of “politi-
cal” squats (10%). However, in order to broaden the perspective at the
regional scale, we found an official data base from the association in
charge of coordinating all social housing developers (AORIF, 2006).
This database only concerns squats of social housings (owners are pub-
lic housing developers) and we estimate that there are 1800 squats in
the whole region (1,200 squats are in private buildings) if we follow this
two unique surveys on squats in Ile-de-France (Quercy, 2002 and
AORIF, 2006).

At the regional scale, the squats are spread out according to the in-
come distribution and the quality of the buildings. Some observations
and interviews with housing developers allow us to assume that they
have a stronger capacity to protect themselves from squatters in the
richest departments (in the south and west). The department of Seine-
Saint-Denis is deeply impacted because of the co-presence of a precari-
ous population, illegal immigrants who cannot legally afford a house
and a very vulnerable precarious, housing stock.

II. Squats as challenges to urban policies

More than simple occupations, an illegal occupation is a mode of
action to resist to the political order, to contest public authorities
and to assert a right to housing while being a first response to this
claim and a survival strategy. If we follow Cécile Péchu, we are deal-
ing with “sectorial illegalisms” (Péchu, 2010: 10): “an illegal spot for
the immediate realization of the claim. The squat is at the same time
a negotiation tool and a response to the request that it supports”.
This definition enables us to understand that the squatters build their
own place while asserting (more) spaces to live or survive. Three main
features appear here.

The first is that squatters short-circuit and “hack” the urban hous-
ing and cultural policies (Aguilera, 2010). Indeed, they are out of the
legal and traditional frame for resource allocation of spaces provided by
the city council and public and private developers. For example, they
usually do not subscribe for a social housing or a workshop, and this
maybe for numerous reasons: sometimes by choice because they refuse
to wait for institutional allocations but more usually because they don’t
have access to the “official channels”. They do not sign up for social as-
sistance (Warin, 2008, 2009, and 2010). They do not either have the
social resources nor the “administrative and legal knowledge”. Thus,
they find the ways to obtain these resources: “the urban poor often have
to step outside the law in order to gain access to housing” (Azuela et
Duhau, 1998:157). Legality is too expensive, so people self-organize in
order to find the means to survive.

The second remark is that these spaces of illegality are, in general,
spaces of precariousness. Moreover, this financial fragility assures the
transition to a legal fragility: “The very fact that a city is divided into ‘le-
gal’ and ‘illegal’ areas has profound implications for society as a whole,
since a truly public order, in the sense of social norms to which all
members of society must adhere, does not exist. As long as a substantial
part of the population gains access to land by a different set of process
from the rest of society, it is clear that not all individuals are subject to
the same rules, regardless of whether or not those rules can be formally
classified as “law”(Azuela et Dubau, 1998:157).

The third feature is that squats appear at the same time as a critique
of the urban policies, a tool to ask for a roof and a strategy to survive
without public support. The squat as a mode of action (Péchu, 2010)
combines a strong political discourse against housing policies (DAL,
Jeudi Noir) or the political order in general (for example for the anar-
chist squats of Montreuil, East-Paris), with demands for welfare, hous-
ings (from the federal government or the municipalities) and shelter for
homeless people. The most striking example seems to be in 2009 in the
Parisian squat of “Rue Baudelique” (18th district of Paris), which hosted
during one year more than 2000 undocumented immigrants coming
from 25 different nationalities while petitioning for legal regularization
and documents. They illegally inhabited a place to enter into the legal-
ity. Furthermore, we can interpret this mode of action as anti-free rider
(Olson, 1987), in the sense that to get the benefits of the squat (a roof
and relocation to legal housing) people have to be squatters (Péchu,
2010). Thus, we understand that we come back to an old debate con-
cerning squats. Is it used as a tool or as an end? Even if we can show that
illegal occupations combine both dimensions (Merklen, 2009), we try
here to distinguish them in order to understand the differences between
various configurations. We propose a factorial analysis with two axes:
one concerning the means/ends cleavage, the other one representing
the level of resources of the dwellers. We call “resources” the social (net-
works), economic (financial resources) and political (links with offi-
cials, representatives, lawyers, media and police) capital held by the

Hans Puijt examines the phenomena of the institutionalization of
squatting wondering if the “institutionalization of an urban movement
is inevitable”? (Pruijt, 2003). He defines three configurations. The first
one is the terminal institutionalization. It “implies that, in the repertoire
of action, convention replaces disruption. The second is flexible institu-
tionalization, when conventional tactics complement disruptive ones”
(Pruijt, 2003:136). The third is the cooptation whereby one part of the
squatters, usually the less radical or the leaders, is absorbed into leader-
ship of the city. This analysis is linked to the resources and goals. For
Hans Pruijt, the squat as an aim is more vulnerable to repression from
public actors and is less likely to persist while the squat as a means, as
a tactic to get other resources (mainly a house), allows some positive
results. Thus, he distinguishes the squatting movement and the hous-
ing movement. In Paris, we have both kinds and we present in the next
section the different cases.

III. The configurations of squats and the
conditions of mobilization

On the top of the resources axis, we observe one kind of squat particu-
larly used by the “Jeudi Noir” (Black Thursday) collective, who are dedi-
cated to media logic, and the association “DAL” (Droit Au Logement
– Housing Right Association). These two collectives use squatting as a
tool and a mode of action for activists. But the squat is also a goal itself
for artists, anarchist activists and precarious families who are looking
for a roof to survive.

3.1. Jeudi Noir: media logic, building agendas and coopta-

This collective was founded in 2006 to denounce the high price of
housing in France. Its first actions were to invite journalists to visit
flats to show the extremely high prices of housing for students and pre-
carious families. Then, it added another mode of collective action with
squatting in 2007. The activists have since opened 13 squats. They seek
and find vacant buildings to squat and draw the attention on the inef-
ficient housing policy of the municipality and of the State. Two main
claims are highlighted by the collective: the application of the DALO
and of the requisition law of 1945. One of the specificities of the ac-
tion group compared to the other Parisian squatters is their massive use
of Media: “we don’t want more activists but more Media” (Collectif
Jeudi Noir, 2009). The media logic is the central dimension of their
action. The squat is only a tool to draw the attention of the media and
thus of national and local representatives. We call them “agenda build-
ers” because they are able to create two kinds of “cycles of attention”
(Baumgartner and Jones, 2005). The first agenda concerns squats. Each
occupation of Jeudi Noir increases the number of articles about squats
in newspapers and television. The second agenda is Housing policies.
Each occupation represents the opportunity to challenge politics.

A brief sociology of the members of the group shows that they are
students, artists but also activists (ecologists, socialists, and extreme-
left activists) who do not necessarily need to squat. During the juridi-
cal procedure in 2010, one of the leaders selected the more precarious
people to put their name on the official list of the squatters in order
to prevent the risk of a bigger fine because of the solvency of some of
them. Indeed, in France, the judge analyzes the personal situation of
the squatters to know if they are “truly” poor and need a roof to survive
or if they do not necessarily need to squat (Bouillon, 2010). The result
of the juridical procedure often depends on the solvency of the squat-
ters. We analyze here a “professionalization of precariousness”: the aim
is to build a “precarious” movement with no precarious people. As we
explained above, the squatters from Jeudi Noir are often students, archi-
tects, and artists. Compared to other kind of squatters, they have more
economic resources. But poverty becomes a resource to gain legitimacy
in a social conflict where the judge could be more lenient with the poor.

What is very interesting in this squatting movement is the relation-
ship between the leaders, who do not live in the squat, and the local
officials. Indeed, the leaders are now officials themselves (one is a repre-
sentative of the regional assembly, another is a member of the Socialist
Party, and another is a representative of a local municipality of Paris).
They have a strong political capital and thus, strong social resources.
They build quasi-friendly relationships with the representatives of the
municipality of Paris, with the head of the housing department and
with the policemen in charge of controlling them. Thus, they accept
the rules of the political game, of representative democracy, while other
squatters denounce it. Moreover, although they squat, they respect the
rules of the public order. Their presence is not disruptive at all. Usually,
city officials come to support them in their action, and take advantage
of this public tribunal to criticize the national government. For exam-
ple, the mayor Bertrand Delanoë came to the squat “The Marquise” at
Place des Vosges. The President of the Region, Jean-Paul Huchon always
assists them during juridical procedures. Just before the night of the
eviction of the last squat “avenue de Matignon”, a communist member
of the National Assembly slept in the street in front of the squat to
block policemen.

3.2. Droit au Logement (DAL): a housing movement using
squat as a means

The DAL movement was born in 1990 from a division with the
“CML” (Comités des Mal-Logés / “Committee of people in bad housing
conditions”). The CML used the squat in a “classist” way if we follow
the typology of Cécile Péchu (Péchu, 2006, 2010). They squatted social
housings to denounce the way the State allocates housing. The occupa-
tions were carried out during the electoral campaigns to draw the atten-
tion of the candidates and the media. However, the creation of the DAL
represents a change in the repertoire of action. At the very beginning
the DAL refused to use squatting as a mode of action: they wanted to
avoid action that was too disruptive and not to be consider as “an ille-
gitimate” actor in order to be able to negotiate with public authorities.
But in 1993, they squatted again in Avenue René Coty and in the “rue
du Dragon” in 1994. This last occupation made the DAL enter into the
public sphere thanks to a massive use of the media and had three main
results. First, each squatter was relocated by the State and the squat was
evicted. Second, the State accepted to use the Requisition Law of 1945.
Third, the Right to Housing was declared “constitutional”. By disturb-
ing public order and using an illegal tool of activism, DAL achieved
their goals. For Cécile Péchu “this is a cover of the squat that lies be-
tween the spectacular action intended to put pressure on authorities
and real action to resolve the housing problem of squatters” (Péchu,
2006). Squatting by DAL is “efficient”: Each occupation is followed
by the relocation of 90% of the squatting families (mainly precarious
African families). In the 18th, 19th and 20th districts of Paris (the most
heavily squatted districts), they rehoused almost 700 families with 15
squats. In the Seine-Saint-Denis department, almost 100 squats have
accommodated 1000 families. In the 19th district of Paris, 6 squats or-
ganized by the DAL were evicted since June 2002. After each eviction,
the activists succeeded in getting relocation of all the families from the
State, the City Council or the SIEMP (“Société Immobilière d’économie
Mixte de Paris”/ Public-Private Housing Developer of Paris). This is the
result of many negotiations between leaders, officials and families. It
shows us that the DAL has a considerable political and social capital
which is used by the activists during these conflictual negotiations.
Nevertheless, the squat is only one mode of action among others for
this housing movement. The DAL combines different kinds of action
which are, sometimes led in the same place: demonstrations, sit-ins,
real squats, symbolic squats, hunger strike, office occupation, illegal ac-
commodation, and concerts. This combination enables the activists to
target different actors: the national government, municipalities, private
owners, housing developers. The “efficiency” of the movement is partly
due to this strategy. The proportion of squats in their total number of
actions increased even while only representing 8% of the actions of
the DAL, and 20% of the actions of the CML (Péchu, 2006:462). But
the DAL has a stronger use of the media to bring the housing problem
into the public sphere. Cécile Péchu distinguishes two types of squats:
the “real” squat and the “symbolic” one. The real one is used both as
a house and as a mode of asserting the right to housing. The symbolic
one is only used to publicize a message. The temporality is the similar to
the one of the Jeudi Noir: the squats emerge during electoral campaigns
and “non-expulsion period”. However, nowadays, since the creation
of Jeudi Noir, the DAL has received less attention in the media than
the former. This is due to the fact that the DAL has less social and po-
litical networks than Jeudi Noir and is therefore a less institutionalized
movement. Indeed, as we showed the activists of Jeudi Noir are closer
to the political class while those from DAL prefer to build an open con-
flict with officials and representative in order to put them under pres-
sure to obtain the relocation of the families. DAL is closer to the “squat
of deprivation” of Hans Pruijt and the “classist” type of Cécile Péchu.
The leaders nevertheless maintain relations with officials but they use
them in a very different way. They call them to request more houses
rather than to require help against eviction. The number permanent
activists in the association are no more than 20. The decisions are very
centralized and the DAL movement corresponds to a Pruijt’s notional
of flexible institutionalization.

3.3. Artists and social centers

The squat appears as a mode of action. The two cases above show that it
can be used as a means to obtain more than a roof over one’s head. It is
the “housing side” of issue squats. Nevertheless, the squat can also be an
individual and collective occupation aiming at living alternatively in the
city beyond the official public policies and the rules of the ownership:
counter-culture, alternative art against commercial and mainstream art,
concerts, and innovative social services provided to the inhabitants of
the district or homeless people. People can chose to organize themselves
to demonstrate that self-organization of society is possible and to strug-
gle against an individualist society based on private property rights. In
France, the word “squat” includes all the meanings we present in this
paper, but in other countries the specific configuration we are evok-
ing in this section is the “social center”. People wishing to create new
human relations as well as social and cultural activities, enter illegally
in a building and appropriate the place. Of course the squatters also
use the building as a house but the main goal is to turn into a place of
meetings, festivals, concerts, theater plays, art classes, kindergarten, or
bicycle workshops. All these activities are linked to the daily life of the
neighborhood which usually accepts the presence of the squatters and
defends them against when the owner wants to evict them (Aguilera,
2010). Most of the Parisian social centers are animated by artists (17
of 21 in 2010). We observed that all of these social centers and artistic
squats are more or less tolerated by the City Council.

There is a profound problem concerning cultural spaces in Paris.
Some surveys show that an artist has to wait more than 30 years to get
a workshop. As we presented before, squatting can be both a problem
for public actors but at the same time, a solution. In fact, for artists
it is a solution in the sense that illegally occupying a building enables
them to create and exhibit inside Paris: “we need more space to live and
create. In Paris, some spaces are unoccupied so we enter and use the place”
(Mathilde, squatter). Since the election of the socialist mayor in 2001,
Bertrand Delanoë, local public actors are rather tolerant towards these
kinds of squats because officials became aware that Parisian voters like
these cultural places and that they develop interesting projects.
Indeed, sometimes squatters provide local and social services in the
face of the inefficiencies of the public and legal system. Squats reveal
problems in the city, compensate for a lack of local activities and in-
spires the city council. Many squats in Paris (the “Jardin d’Alice”, the
“59 Rivoli”, “La Générale”, “TDV”, the “Petite Rockette”, …) provide
art classes and exhibitions in places where the municipality is unable to.
Sometimes, officials prefer to build strong relationships of trust with
the squatters rather than to repress them. This is the case of a specific
association: MACAQ (Mouvement d’Animation Culturelle et Artistique
de Quartier / Local Cultural and Artistic Association). This association
which was born in the 17th district of Paris and has a very special re-
lation with the left wing of the city council. MACAQ organizes the
carnival of Paris, many cultural events, and bric-a-brac sales. The mu-
nicipality externalizes the management of these social and cultural ac-
tivities. The logic is the same concerning vacant housing. The housing
department director told me that he gives “concessions” to MACAQ
to squat building if they are empty and too expensive to renovate. He
calls them “professional squatters”. Thus, nowadays they squat the 123
rue Tocqueville in the 17th district where they host many associations:
“It’s a good deal for all of us. The municipality doesn’t
have to pay repairs and surveillance. For the squatters, it is
an opportunity to get a building legally for some time. When
we have a building where we don’t have any project we call
them and they squat” (Housing Department director of the
Municipality of Paris).

Furthermore, some squats provide social services. Since 2005, the
artists who squat in the “Petite Rockette” host 14 homeless people with
the help of the NGO “Médecins du Monde”. Thus, social centers chal-
lenge and “serve” the municipality at the same time.

Thus, the City Council adopted two political instruments which
allow it to control and govern the squats in Paris (Aguilera, 2011). The
first is the project and the call for project proposals. When the City
Council wants to retrieve the management of a building for a specific
project, the Housing or the Cultural department launches a call for
project proposals and sometimes squatters are welcomed to participate
in imagining the future of this building. Squatters have to enter the
legal sphere and accept the status of urban planners or experts. They
have to present an application like the squatters of the “Petite Rockette”
did with the help of the NGO “Médecins du Monde”, or the artists of
the “Forge de Belleville” in 2009. This process forces squatters to respect
administrative norms: budgets, security norms, public order. They have
to determine the allocation of the place (artistic place with workshops,
living place with bed rooms, etc). They have to accept the ground rules
of the urban planning.

The second instrument is a juridical contract between squatters and
the owner, the precarious lease, which allows the squatters to stay in
the building for a determined and limited period (18 months gener-
ally) and for a small rent (around 1000 Euros per month). It is an
instrument of normalization of the relationship between squatters and
owners. Thus, it is a first step to reduce the tension between property
rights and housing rights. Moreover, it is a means for the municipality
to control illegal spaces. The squatters and the owners are both winners
in this process and both parties usually accept it. The squatters can
stay and the owner avoids a juridical procedure of eviction which is
quite a burden. From illegal to contractual, squatters change their sta-
tus but they stay in the same location and keep, more or less, the same
activities. On the one hand, squatters have to accept some ground rules
to stay. On the other hand, as squatters are innovators in terms of so-
cial and cultural practices, they urge public actors to innovate. Parisian
representatives, who have adopted these two instruments as vectors of
public policy innovation, were inspired by squatters for the last two
years: they created new festive and cultural places: the “104”, the “100
rue de Charenton”, the “Petit Bain” etc.

However, although this is not the mainstream opinion, some squat-
ters (mainly anarchists) refuse to deal with the municipality and criti-
cize squatters who accept it denouncing it as “institutionalization”.
Some of them told me that the squat loses its identity and its own value
if it is legalized:

“We are legal now. We lost the freedom of illegality…When
we were illegal we were not allowed to do anything so we were
able to do everything! Nowadays we cannot do anything with-
in the [boundaries of the] law” (Pablo, squatter).

In Paris, the extreme-left wing and non-institutionalized squats are
absent. We can find some in the periphery like in Montreuil with some
anarchist groups who refuse to deal with state actors. The consequence
is that the squats are more ephemeral. A larger European compara-
tive work should show that Parisian squats are less politicized than in
Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, Geneva, and Amsterdam. A last group of
squats are the invisible squats.

3.4. “Invisible squats”

As we have already mentioned, we estimate that there are 2,000 squats
in the Ile-de-France Region. The problem is that most of them are in-
visible: we can observe them when the owner becomes aware of the
situation and wants to evict them. Some interviews let us think that
the Prefecture (deconcentrated local state, the representation in region
of the federal State) would have built up a database but at the moment
we are not able to have access to the files. The only exhaustive database
we can use is the one presented in the first section of this paper. It only
concerns squats in buildings owned by social housing developers. We
observed 661 squats at the regional scale in 2006.

The Housing Developers are frequently victims of squatting for three
reasons and during three particular moments. First, when developers
renovate buildings the flats are empty and vulnerable; second, during
relocation of renters and “turn over”; third, during the construction. 51%
of the squats presented here are small squats of flats. Homeless people
or precarious people enter in a flat when they know that it is empty. In
41% of the cases, some networks of people have a good knowledge of the
situation of relocations and renovations. During interviews, some actors
told us that they can paid-off the doormen and some security officers of
developers to get the addresses of empty flats. They enter a flat, change
the lock, write a fake lease and sell it to precarious and immigrant families
unable to check the veracity of the situation. Besides, the region hosts also
some cases of squats whole or mainly composed of drug addicts. The last
one in the north of Paris hosted hundreds of drug users. It was evicted
in March 2010. The inhabitants of these squats consider the occupation
as the primary goal because they want a roof and nothing else. The aim
of squatting is to live in worthy conditions and to avoid sleeping in the
street. There is not any process of institutionalization and the inhabitants
benefit from staying invisible. They don’t have many resources but have
the skills to open a squat.

In this section, we have analyzed the different configurations of
squatting in Paris, specifically according to two main cleavages: re-
sources of squatters and their goals. The process of institutionalization
takes two mains forms: cooptation as with Jeudi Noir, flexible as with
DAL and artists. For some scholars (Castells, 1983; Piven and Cloward,
1974) as well as for the political radical squatters, the process of in-
stitutionalization means the decline and loss of identity of the urban
movement. However, squatters in Paris usually accept a flexible insti-
tutionalization. They create their own identity which is a combination
of interests. They develop strong rational strategies radicalizing some
positions on the one hand (the main tool of their activism is illegal) and
accepting the rules on the other (the rules of the negotiation). Squatters
have many resources. They are able to mobilize their own resources to
create a “disturbing” situation (McAdam, 1982). They have built many
networks, of which some are informal: squatters move a lot between
different squats and they know each other. Besides, they have estab-
lished formal networks of sociability in order to exchange experiences,
information and to organize events. In Paris, 70% of the squats belong
to the Intersquat Network which is a Parisian initiative, although it is
connected to many European squats in Rome, Barcelona, Berlin, and
Geneva. The members of Intersquat meet once a month to exchange
their experiences. They talk about new techniques for squatting, avoid
eviction, and organizing a legal defense. They also circulate the address-
es of newly vacant buildings. Finally, they organize several European
events and meetings between squatters elsewhere in Europe (held in a
different capital every year). This network gives the squatters some re-
sources they can use to address officials. They know how to speak, how
to organize an official meeting, how to defend themselves legally, they
also know the Parisian territory (their databases of vacant buildings are
more complete than the official ones) and how to mobilize the media
to be visible.


As in every country in Europe, we find very different types of squats
in Paris and its region. We can distinguish different configurations de-
pending on the resources of the squatters and on their goals. The squats
and social centers in Paris are the most visible. But they are only the
small part of the iceberg. Most of the squats are invisible and hidden
and we have to integrate them in the analysis when we are talking about
squats even if their inhabitants are not activists. Indeed, we presented
the squatting group “Jeudi Noir” which uses the media in order to at-
tract attention to the housing problem in France and the DAL which
is able to organize big events to relocate poor families. Many artists
squat in Paris and have quite good relationships with the local officials,
which allow them to stay and participate to the development of the
city. However, we have shown that many squats are invisible. They host
precarious people who need shelter in order to survive. In that last case,
squatting is not a choice and the mobilization to defend themselves is
very difficult.

These different configurations imply different responses from state
actors. In fact, as we have shown, artists and social centers are usually
tolerated by the Paris city council which needs them to build a European
cultural capital. Indeed, officials know that the city can attract tourists
if it is a “creative” and innovative city. The political squats are also often
supported by the left wing city council which considers them as a tool
to critique the national right wing government. However, this side of
public policies does not have to prevent us from observing the “dark
side” of these relationships. Squatters without any resources (media,
social and/or cultural capital) are usually evicted and the municipality
does not intervene to support them. The police and the discipline of
the city still work in Paris in order to control squatting. The police in-
tervene during the daily life to avoid squatting in empty buildings and
when the judge orders an eviction, the police carry it out.


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