Society

Micro-Apartments, Not The Paris You Always Dreamed Of

In France, more than 23,000 people live in a room of smaller than nine square meters, many in the capital. But to rent out such small spaces is illegal.

Inside a Parisian micro apartment
Inside a Parisian micro apartment
Caroline Piquet

PARIS â€" Albert is sitting on his single bed on the sixth floor of a typical Haussman-style building in the 13th arrondissement in south Paris. It is a sweltering late July day, and the 56-year-old keeps the door of his flat open. "Here you are. This is where I live," he says of the 6.5-square-meter (70-square-foot) apartment.

The cramped room is poorly ventilated, with only a narrow transom that provides natural light. On the right, a small water spigot is located at the foot of the bed. On the other side, a mound of suitcases, bags and other boxes cover the entire wall. "What you see here is my whole life," Albert sighs.

The temporary worker has been living in this tiny room for 15 years, and currently pays monthly rent of 350 euros ($390). "I used to live in a 22-square-meter flat, but the owner wanted to sell it, so I had to go," he says.

Albert found this place on a French real estate website, but it was supposed to be an interim solution. "Every year since I got here, I apply for social housing. But they keep telling me that families are given first preference and there's nothing they can do for me," he says.

With no room to cook, no oven or microwave, he only prepares himself coffee in the morning on a hotplate. There is no shower, only a cold water washstand, and the toilets are on the landing. "I shower at work and sometimes I eat something at the Salvation Army."

In the winter he keeps the electric radiator on for only an hour or so, for fear of it catching fire. "It already happened with a lamp and, fortunately, my next-door neighbor helped me put the fire out," he recalls.

Like Albert, there are some 23,000 current residences of smaller than nine square meters (97 square feet), according to the French Ministry of Housing. About 7,000 of these are in and around Paris. The renting of those inadequate homes, which typically have moisture problems and lack any natural daylight, is illegal. French law prohibits the renting of rooms that are "not open to the outside" and "unsuitable for habitation."

One sink for all

Samuel Mouchard, who heads the Housing Solidarity Space at the French NGO Fondation Abbé Pierre, notes that people forced into tiny living spaces is not a new problem. "There is a legal arsenal now to combat the practice, but the government keeps neglecting the issue," he says. The 50 or so municipal spot-checks per year, Mouchard says, are "a drop in the ocean."

Mohamed has decided not to accept his situation passively. He and his wife have been living since 2011 in a micro room across town in the 17th arrondissement. The 54-year-old’s home, rented for 300 euros, has a single bed, a small fridge, a small table and hot plates. The bathroom sink is also used as a kitchen sink.

"The neighbor and I share the pipeline, which often gets clogged," Mohamed explains. He works as an employee for a public transport operator and earns 850 euros a month. He has applied for public housing with the city of Paris, where he has also informed authorities about his current living situation. An inspector came to measure the dimensions of the place: the living surface totaled just seven square meters. Mohamed has since been waiting for his situation to improve.

The landlady offered her own version of the facts. "At first, I just wanted to be nice and help him out. But after a while, I realized he had settled down and I asked him to pay a rent," she says. Mohamed denies this version, saying he has been paying a rent since he first arrived in 2011.

When asked if 300 euros is not too expensive for such a small room, the landlady responds by saying that some people charge double that amount. "All I did was help him so that he doesn't end up living on the street," she says. "But now that his wife has moved in with him, I want them to leave. I am not the kind of person to initiate an eviction, so they should decide to move out as soon as possible."

It is an upside-down world, in which the person who lives in virtually unlivable housing owes his good landlord a debt of gratitude. This, too, is part of the Paris scenery.

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Geopolitics

"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.


The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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