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2011 OECD Economic Surveys: France 2011

image of OECD Economic Surveys: France 2011

The 2011 edition of OECD's periodic survey of the French economy.  This edition includes chapters covering the recovery, bringing down the public debt, making the housing market work better, and France's environmental policies.

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Making the housing market work better

Housing plays a key role in the economy, because of its weight in household expenditures and assets, its importance for social well-being, and its impact on educational outcomes and employment as well as on the business cycle. Over the past half century, the bulk of the population has benefited significantly from improved housing conditions. Yet perhaps 5% of families are still poorly-housed, and inequalities in access to housing have widened since the mid-1990s, as soaring real estate prices have produced strong distributional effects. Although the severity of the economic crisis seemed to portend a sharp downward correction, the market has in fact turned around and recovered vigorously in France as in many OECD countries, supported by exceptional financing conditions and policies to stimulate demand. While the risk that prices will fall is non negligible, particularly if credit conditions tighten, the situation in France seems to reflect a shortage of housing supply, concentrated in certain “strained” geographic areas. The key role that housing plays in ensuring the social inclusion of individuals and the many imperfections inherent in the housing market justify government intervention. A crucial question is whether the policies being implemented are helping to correct these imperfections efficiently or whether, on the contrary, they are amplifying them, with possible negative spillovers on employment, economic growth or equity. The general principles underlying government housing policies should embrace three aspects: income-tested assistance to individuals, the most effective instrument because it allows for better targeting; direct support for housing supply in areas of excess demand, especially through the social sector, which should focus on disadvantaged households; and the removal of obstacles that work against market mechanisms, so as to make supply more responsive and the market more fluid and transparent, and to limit the many distortions induced by regulation, taxation and subsidies.

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