How a housing crisis manifesto is changing the debate in Brittany
Brittany, Cornwall and Wales have a lot in common, both in our cultures and history.
But, given our situation of small nations with no state of our own, we also often face the same problems.
One of those, the invasion of holiday homes, has recently become a very serious issue.
In Brittany, Nil Caouissin of UDB (Unvaniezh Demokratikel Breizh/ Union Démocratique Bretonne) has just published a Manifesto for a resident’s status in Brittany, which exposes the problem and its consequences for local populations and proposes solutions.
The book has triggered a lot of reaction in Brittany as well as outside. It has generated a lot of comments in the media and social networks and attracting both approval and criticism.
In any case, it has initiated a debate, very often passionate. This is proof, if any was needed, of the seriousness of the problem.
There is a real emergency in Brittany. In some coastal areas the number of holiday homes account for up to 80% of all dwellings. For the Département of Morbihan alone, the percentage is 18%, and with the Covid crisis and a lot of wealthy city dwellers trying to find shelter in remote and beautiful areas, the number might rise.
According to a recent estimate, these holiday homes are occupied an average of only three months a year and only 11% of the owners are planning to settle permanently.
Before the pandemic, about 330 000 holiday homes were recorded in Brittany which could provide lodging to an estimated 600 000 people at least.
Consequences and problems
The effects are clear, as these newcomers are mostly from big cities (a lot of them are from Paris, but many are from the largest Breton cities, Nantes/ Naoned and Rennes/ Roazhon), where buying power is much higher.
Prices go up, often to a ridiculous extent, and local people can’t afford to buy any more and they have to move away, thus being deprived of their right to live in their area of birth or where they work.
For a while, the solution was to extend buildable areas, but it’s not compatible anymore with the necessity of protecting farmland. We then end up with a totally absurd situation where local populations can no longer afford houses in areas where a considerable number of them are empty.
In addition to that, a lot of these people, who are forced to live further away, have to use their car every day back and forth to go to work. This, naturally, is not very good from an environmental point of view.
Finally, this increase of holiday homes gradually squeeze out local populations, hollow out entire communities. Shops, cultural and sporting activities, services and schools, disappear. These places are then empty for most of the year, entirely dedicated to wealthy tourism and summer holidays.
The resident’s status
In his Manifesto, Nil Caouissin proposes a compulsory year of residence before having the right to buy in Brittany, especially in heavily impacted areas.
He insists upon the fact that there would not be any origin criteria (Bretons or non Bretons for example) and that people wanting to live and work in Brittany are welcome.
The Corsicans have already proposed a similar measure, and in their version, the time of residence prior to buying housing was five years. The idea received significant support from the European Parliament and the Human Rights League, and yet it’s been rejected by the French State as “discriminatory”.
One could of course wonder which is the most discriminatory: protecting local populations or letting entire zones being occupied to their detriment by the power of money and speculation.
It’s important to note that this status, or something very similar, has been applied already in different parts of Europe, the Aland archipelago in Finland and Bolzano, south Tyrol, now part of Italy.
In Nil Caouissin’s view, this measure would help fight property speculation, and it could stabilize and lower prices. It would free up lodgings either for rental or buying. Moreover, by giving local populations priority in the acquisition of property, it would enable them to stay and live in their areas of birth or work.
The Manifesto has sparked a lot of reaction and has been very well received in Brittany, and it’s no wonder.
Moving away from your home region, not by choice but under financial pressure is viewed as extremely unfair. It destabilises whole communities and generates great frustration and resentment.
Furthermore, as this population replacement is very often taking place in areas where Breton/ Brezhoneg is still spoken, it further weakens a language which is already in danger.
Given the extent of the phenomenon and the most probable increase one could expect in the years to come, it’s quite obvious that a solution has to be found, and soon.
It will certainly be a major issue for UDB and for all the forces committed to the empowerment of Breton people. Without any doubt, it will be the same in all small nations of Western Europe facing the same problem.
If Brittany, Wales, and Cornwall are facing similar problems, then perhaps we can find similar solutions too.
Jean Lucas is a journalist from Nantes, Brittany