Habitat et Humanisme has been working for the past 36 years to help people in need to find housing and to reintegrate into society. Bernard Devert, who became a priest after a career in real estate, founded the organisation in Lyon in 1985. Today this organisation is composed of 56 associations in 83 French departments, an implantation in Belgium and one in Luxembourg.
Habitat et Humanisme’s aims are to help families and individuals in need to find decent, low cost housing. In order to contribute to social diversity in town centres, Habitat et Humanisme chooses housing in culturally diverse neighbourhoods within urban areas.
Providing support is an integral part of the Habitat et Humanisme project. Indeed support is systematically offered to anyone housed by the association. It is carried out by teams of volunteers and employees working alongside social services and other support agencies.
One of the main goals is to help individuals define their own rehabilitation project. This, in turn, leads to increased self-esteem, autonomy and helps them to visualise their future.
This support takes the form of everyday realities: administrative help, DIY, visits to the neighbourhood, help with schoolwork etc. and also through social interaction and friendly contact. The key to the support is listening, respect and reciprocity and the development and recognition of the resources and abilities of each individual.
Habitat et Humanisme is also helping to develop small scale, “lodging house” style, collective housing aimed at those who find themselves isolated and who are often suffering from socio-economic, family or health problems.
These projects combine small, individual residences with shared living spaces such as a sitting room, kitchen or garden, to create a “family lifestyle” environment. A house leader, supported by a team of volunteers, provides a warm and caring presence. They make sure the atmosphere remains convivial and are attentive to each and everyone’s personal journey. The smooth social rehabilitation of residents is encouraged by collective workshops such as outings, DIY, gardening, games etc.
Right from the start, Habitat et Humanisme has based its activities on innovation and social entrepreneurship. Breaking away from the voluntary sector which is financed through private generosity and state subsidies, Habitat et Humanisme has created socially oriented economic tools to finance and carry out its work.
Habitat et Humanisme Real Estate is a registered “socially responsible” company with the French denomination ”SIEG » (Service d’Intérêt Economique Général). Ìt is the property arm of the movement and acquires, renovates and builds housing for people in need. As of the 31/12/2021, it owned more than 5 000 housing units across France.
In order to amass the funds required for these transactions, it calls upon socially responsible investors in the context of capital increases approved by the AMF (the French Financial Markets Authority). Thus, its 298 M€ capital is held by approximately 9 500 shareholders of which 95% are individuals who benefit from tax concessions, thanks to specific fiscal laws .
As a pioneer of socially responsible savings in France, Habitat et Humanisme also offers a range of investments (savings accounts, mutual funds, life insurance, employee social savings funds), where the saver agrees to share some of the annual interest with the association thus actively participating in its actions.
Habitat et Humanisme offers a property management service to landlords in order to let this housing to families with limited resources. Different options are available according to the location, notably management contracts via “socially engaged real estate agencies” (AIVS): Habitat et Humanisme has 9 “AIVS” in France. In exchange for a reduction in the rent, the landlords benefit from having the property managed on their behalf and from tax concessions.
Habitat et Humanisme also manages more complex real estate transactions such as property transfer or the temporary donation of usufruct which allows owners to remove the property from their tax base and to be free from management concerns. Finally, the association advises real estate investors on the acquisition of property that it then manages for a limited period, for example, through property dismemberment.
In order to deal with the inter-linked problems of isolation and socio-economic difficulties, Habitat et Humanisme is testing out intergenerational housing bringing together people of different ages and situations: elderly and young people, families etc. The aim is to foster conviviality and a dynamic of mutual assistance and solidarity in the neighbourhood. These are either individual homes within a small building that also includes common areas (a common living room or garden) or specially adapted shared housing.