French Cities in the Making: A State of the Art of the Research on the Habitat Participatif Movement

French Cities in the Making: A State of the Art of the Research on the Habitat Participatif Movement

On January 10th, a one-day long seminar organized by the interdepartmental agency PUCA (Plan Urbanisme Construction Architecture), sponsored and hosted by the French Ministries of Housing and the Environment in Paris, gathered researchers from different fields (urbanism, architecture, law, and sociology) to discuss the state of the art and the future objectives of the research on habitat participatif[1]. This seminar has been an opportunity to retrace the origins, evolution and main implications of habitat participatif since the movement has gained momentum in the 2000s.

Over the last fifteen years, France has witnessed a resurgence of interest in residents-led housing projects as a response to the difficulties that a growing number of households encountered in getting access to housing due to the economic, financial, and real estate crisis. In particular, middle-income households – until then protected by their level of education and social integration – have seen their chances to get access to decent and affordable housing, especially in major cities and towns, seriously undermined[2]. On the one hand, the speculative rise in house and land prices prevented these groups from entering the private real estate and rental market. On the other hand, their income level was far too high to be eligible for social housing, also provided that the supply of social accommodation was unable to meet the demand of an increasingly large share of the population.

The instability created by the crisis, however, has served as the breeding ground for the re-emergence and spread of residents-led housing initiatives in France and, since the beginning of the 2000s, new housing projects have developed throughout the country and they are now in the hundreds[3]. At the heart of this spontaneous, residents-led mobilisation there is an increased awareness of the importance of protecting and fostering values such as environmental sustainability, mutual solidarity, citizens’ participation, and sharing of resources, knowledge and expertise. Rather than relying on the private market or being the passive recipients of social housing policies, groups of residents have increasingly been engaged in the conception, building, and management of their own housing projects, so playing an active role in shaping the city in a way that better responds to their needs and expectations. The multiplicity of terms that are used in France to describe these projects – habitat groupé, habitat autogéré, habitat alternatif, habitat participatif, habitat cooperatif and cooperatives d’habitants – captures the diversity of values, principles, layout, design, and legal arrangements that characterises the projects[4]. However, in spite of this heterogeneous mix, the expression habitat participatif has been increasingly chosen as a term capable of referring to all housing projects whose common goal is to place the resident at the earth of the realisation and management of her living space and to provide a valuable alternative to both the private market sector and public-led initiatives[5].

Grown out from the mobilisation of groups of residents, the habitat participatif movement has also acquired a national and institutional dimension due to the creation of national networks[6] and the involvement of social housing promoters[7] and other institutional players[8]. The dialogue among the different stakeholders culminated, after a long process of public consultation and discussion, in the legal recognition of the habitat participatif in the Loi ALUR[9]. The law reformed the Code de la construction et de l’habitation by introducing in the Code a definition of habitat participatif and by providing a new legal framework for its practical implementation. On the one hand, the law defined habitat participatif as a “citizens-based initiative that allows individuals to associate, if necessary with legal persons, in order to participate in the definition and design of their individual dwellings and common spaces, to construct or acquire one or more buildings and, where possible, to ensure their management”. Emphasis is placed on sharing and solidarity, since the habitat participatif is meant to promote “the construction and the supply of housing, as well as the development of collective spaces, under a logic of sharing and solidarity between inhabitants” [10]. On the other hand, the reform provided a completely new legal framework to be used by habitat participatif projects, and notably the cooperative d’habitants and the société d’attribution et d’autopromotion[11], which should replace, at least to a certain extent, the legal scheme of the copropriété des immeubles[12].

Although major innovations have been accomplished by this law reform and projects are flourishing throughout the country, the habitat participatif keeps raising important questions that deserve further study and investigation, as emerged during the afternoon workshops of the PUCA seminar. A first suggested line of research might investigate the major implications and changes that the institutionalisation of the habitat participatif, recently accomplished by the Loi ALUR, have brought about. A second line of research might instead focus on the individual/collective dimension of the projects and address issues related to the residents’ life and sustainability of the projects in the long-term. From a legal perspective, focusing on the individual/collective dimension of the habitat participatif would also lead to investigate and reconsider the way ownership, and multi-owned housing legal schemes in particular, have been conceived of and used so far in the framework of these projects[13]. Finally, a third line of research may attempt to further explore the reciprocal interaction between habitat participatif projects and the city, by examining both the role of the stakeholders involved and the outcomes of this interaction.

To conclude, what the state of the art of the research on habitat participatif has revealed is that habitat participatif represents more than a means to get access to housing by way of sharing common spaces and services; rather, the values it promotes and its structure deeply affect the role individuals play within the community and in the city. As Alain Jünd observed during the seminar, habitat participatif not only concerns the way in which projects are built and spaces shared, but also represents an entirely new way of “fabriquer la ville collectivement[14].


Fabiana Bettini, Postdoctoral Researcher, Sciences Po Law School, Paris

This article is drawn from a broader research conducted in the framework of the ERC-funded project “INCLUSIVE” (2014-2019) led by Professor Séverine Dusollier and hosted by the Sciences Po Law School, Paris


[1] The program of the seminar and the links to the relevant documents can be found at

[2] S. Bresson, L. Tummers, L’habitat participatif en Europe. Vers des politiques alternatives de développement urbain?, in Métropoles, 15 (2014), 15 décembre 2014, available at

[3] Data are taken from a survey of habitat participatif projects made by La Coordin’action, an association that gathers and coordinates fourteen French associations involved in the promotion, development and realization of habitat participatif projects as well as in keeping the dialogue with other institutional actors open. The mapping of existing habitat participatif projects, at the different stage of their completion, is available at

[4] S. Bresson, S. Denèfle, Diversity of self-managed co-housing initiatives in France, in Urban research and practice, 8:1, 2015, p. 5-16.  On the major trends of habitat participatif projects, their roots and ideologies, see A. D’Orazio, La nébuleuse de l’habitat participatif: radiographie d’une mobilisation, in Métropolitiques, 16 janvier 2012, available at

[5] This is the definition given in the preamble of the Livre Blanc de l’Habitat Participatif, where the term habitat participatif is used to encompass “toute une série d’initiatives dont l’objectif est la recherche d’alternatives aux cadres de production classiques du logement, en positionnant l’usager au cœur de la réalisation et de la gestion de son lieu de vie. […] il pourra s’imposer comme une voie alternative au logement aux côtés du parc privé et du logement social”: Livre Blanc de l’Habitat Participatif, Strasbourg, 2011, p.1. The Livre Blanc has been realised by the association Eco-Quartier Strasbourg on behalf of the Coordin’action in the aftermath of the national habitat participatif meetings held in Strasbourg during 2010.

[6] The Réseau national des collectivités pour l’habitat participatif formed in 2010 with the aim of bringing together municipalities, groups of municipalities, and regions, whose involvement in participatif housing was increasingly requested by the citizens’ initiatives. The brochure of the network is available for downloading at Likewise, associations involved in supporting and promoting habitat participatif gathered into a national network called La Coordin’action :

[7] Social housing in France is mostly provided by the organismes d’habitations à loyer modéré (HLM). They are organized in the Union Sociale pour l’Habitat and the Fédération des Coopératives HLM. For the role played by HLM organisms in the context of the habitat participatif projects, see La place et le role des organismes HLM dans l’habitat participatif, Réseau HLM pour l’Habitat Participatif, septembre 2016, available for downloading at

[8] Other institutional players have been the Ministry of Housing, the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, banks (and notably the Crédit Mutuel), the Architectes Association, the CAUE Federation for Architecture, Urbanism and the Environment, the National Chamber of civil law notaries. The process of institutionalisation of the habitat participatif movement has been explored by C. Devaux, De l’experimentation à l’institutionalisation: l’habitat participatif à un tournant?, in Métropolitiques, 23 janvier 2012, available at, and more extensively, C. Devaux, L’habitat participatif. De l’initiative habitante à l’action publique, PUR, 2015.

[9] Cfr. Loi n°2014-366 du 24 mars 2014 pour l’accès au logement et un urbanisme rénové, available at

[10] Art. 200-1 provides that “l’habitat participatif est une démarche citoyenne qui permet à des personnes physiques de s’associer, le cas échéant avec des personnes morales, afin de participer à la définition et à la conception de leurs logements et des espaces destinés à un usage commun, de construire ou d’acquérir un ou plusieurs immeubles destinés à leur habitation et, le cas échéant, d’assurer la gestion ultérieure des immeubles construits ou acquis. […] L’habitat participatif favorise la construction et la mise à disposition de logements, ainsi que la mise en valeur d’espaces collectifs dans une logique de partage et de solidarité entre habitants”.

[11] See articles 201-1 to 201-13 and articles 202-1 to 202-11 of the Code de la construction et de l’habitation. More detailed rules are still in the process of being adopted thorough implementing decrees of the Conseil d’Etat.

[12] Copropriété des immeubles is the most widespread legal arrangements used in France for multi-owned housing and a large portion of habitat participatif projects so far built have resorted to the copropriété scheme. Although the Loi ALUR has provided a new legal framework mostly based on cooperatives, copropriété will still be used in the future to a certain extent.

[13] This is the main focus of the research conducted in the framework of ERC-funded project “INCLUSIVE” led by Professor Séverine Dusollier and hosted by the Sciences Po Law School, Paris.

[14]Alain Jünd is Deputy Major of the city of Strasbourg responsible for town planning and environmental transition, and president of the Réseau national des collectivités pour l’habitat participatif.


Il 10 gennaio a Parigi ha avuto luogo un seminario dedicato all’habitat participatif (abitare partecipativo e collaborativo), una pratica abitativa sempre più diffusa, caratterizzata dal coinvolgimento degli abitanti nella progettazione, realizzazione e gestione dello spazio abitativo. Questa soluzione, nata dalla mobilitazione di gruppi di residenti, rappresenta una valida alternativa sia al mercato immobiliare privato, con i suoi prezzi sempre più proibitivi, che alle iniziative di housing pubblico.

Ciò che emerge dalle ricerche sull’habitat participatif è che questa soluzione abitativa, oltre ad offrire una modalità differente di accesso all’abitazione, basata sulla condivisione di spazi e servizi, genera una profonda trasformazione nella concezione del ruolo dell’individuo all’interno della città e della società.