Giving Grigny hope: how France’s poorest town is reviving its housing

About the Affordable Cities blog series and #BetterUrbanHousing
People living in cities across the world are facing the effects of the housing affordability and cost-of-living crisis. OECD Champion Mayors recently endorsed the new “OECD Brussels Blueprint for Affordable cities and Housing for All” at the Brussels Urban Summit where they shared innovative solutions to tackle these challenges and drive more inclusive economic growth. They continue to drive efforts that shape a more affordable, equitable and resilient urban future.

In our city, the poorest in mainland France, poverty is not something we hide; it’s something we face up to. Poverty undermines health, human dignity and outcomes at every stage of life but is particularly damaging for the youngest members of the population, single-parent families and the elderly. 

In November 2020, Grigny was ranked as the poorest town in mainland France by the Observatory on poverty (Observatoire de Lutte contre la Pauvreté), with a poverty rate of 45% (compared with 14.6% nationally). Nearly half of the town’s employees live on less than €880 a month, and 10% of the population live below the minimum income (RSA) threshold that triggers state support (€608 a month for a single person).  

A task force against poverty 

To tackle this problem, in a move unique within France, the town has reached out beyond its own remit to sign a partnership agreement with 9 public bodies – the Prefecture, the health insurance fund, the family allowance fund, the job centre, the Grand Paris Sud intercommunal authority, the Essonne departmental council, the regional health agency and the Ministry of Education. The agreement has established a powerful “task force” against poverty, which is now delivering concrete and innovative solutions, including: 

  • The distribution of free, nutritious breakfasts to children in the town’s nursery and primary schools. 
  • The creation of a vocational training centre to promote the integration into the world of work of people who are a long way from employment. 
  • New digital mentors’ posts to combat the digital divide. 
  • The introduction of a Pass’Sport to make sport accessible to all, which has helped boost women’s participation in sport by 27% and sports memberships in the in the 13-15 age group by 85%. 
  • Free distribution of sanitary protection in the town’s facilities. 

In a town like Grigny, the fight against poverty represents a battle for the most basic human rights, such as housing, adequate food, drinking water at a fair price, access to healthcare, education, employment, sport, culture and the right to leisure. Our aim is to build a city of human rights and human security. 

Exceptional difficulties, exceptional solutions 

At the heart of this battle against poverty lies a right to housing. Grigny’s history is one centrally planned urbanisation, which in the 1960s transformed a village of 6,000 inhabitants into a fully-fledged town of over 27,000 through the creation of two large housing estates: Grigny 2 and Grande Borne. 

These new estates changed the character of the town. Grigny’s strategy changed also, and after many years of struggle, the Grande Borne district is now about to undergo a second phase of urban renewal. The town has just inaugurated a town centre which it sorely lacked. And Grigny 2, one of the largest estates in Europe, with 5,000 homes and 17,000 inhabitants, is the focus of a national programme to redevelop deprived estates (ORCOD IN).  

The city and the state are putting in place exceptional measures, including by introducing a tenancy permit to register rental properties and a unit to inspect dwellings and take legal action against landlords who illegally rent out substandard accommodation. Financial support is also being provided, with Or the State paying 100% of the cost of emergency work, including tax. 

Urgent action is needed to raise standards. If nothing is done, our people will be living in vertical shanty towns. This is a challenge for us in Grigny, but also for our nation. We are proud to be leading the way with innovative and urgent solutions – and continuing to fight for the future of our residents. 

About the OECD Champion Mayors Initiative
Created in 2016, the OECD Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth Initiative is a global coalition of mayors who meet on a regular basis to share their experience in the pursuit of inclusive growth in cities. Since its inception, over 100 different mayors from around the world have joined the Initiative, contributing their voice to the global debate, and making major strides in their cities toward youth empowerment, sustainable climate policy and support for SMEs. The Champion Mayors will meet at the Brussels Urban Summit on 13 June to drive change on improving housing affordability and cost of living for residents in their cities.

This blog is also available in french.

Mayor of Grigny | + posts

Philippe Rio has been Mayor of Grigny since 2012. In 2008 he was First Deputy Mayor in charge of urbanism, transportation, economic development and environment. He also previously worked for the municipality of Grigny as a local councillor since 1998. Raised and educated in Grigny, Philippe Rio studied urban planning at Sciences Po, Paris, and later specialised in urban renewal in public institutions.

In addition to his role as Mayor, he is Vice President in charge of sustainable development, energy transition, the water cycle and biodiversity of “Grand Paris Sud”, Vice President of “Ville et Banlieue” and President of the Association “Mayors for peace France”. On 16th October 2017, together with elected officials and field actors, Philippe Rio launched the “Grigny Appeal”. On 14th November 2020, he and a handful of elected officials initiated the open letter from 200 Mayors to the President of the French Republic for the Priority Urban Neighborhoods. On 29th January 2021, he welcomed the Prime Minister to Grigny for the Interministerial Committee for the City. On 13th September 2021, the World Mayor Foundation named him “Best Mayor in the World”.