Montpellier: Squat des Archives, towards an evacuation and a legal transition?

The Luttopia collective, who is coordinating the squat of the former departmental archives, met today with the Prefecture’s chief of staff, Mr. Smith, in the presence of representatives of the municipality, the Departmental Directorate of Social Cohesion (DDCS), the Communal Center for Social Action (CCAS) and the French Office for Immigration and Integration (OFII), to discuss the future of the building, which is subject to a judicial decision of eviction.

A change in the Prefecture’s discourse?

During this meeting, it would seem that the Prefecture has relatively changed its discourse regarding the eviction of the Squat des Archives, which Prefect Jacques Witkowski had announced last February. A certain awareness of the catastrophic situation of housing and social support in the department has obviously made it possible to envisage a common solution for the future of Luttopia 003, with a view to re-housing its occupants in a truly sustainable manner.

The Prefecture thus proposed that the Luttopia collective be coordinated with the SDCS and the CCAS with regard to the social support of the people concerned. The collective is also led to work with the Agence Intercalaire and the Abbé Pierre Foundation on the prefectoral requisition of one or several empty buildings, for a long-term provision of at least 90 accommodation places. Prefectorial, communal and departmental services would thus coordinate with the Luttopia collective to avoid a dry exit from the Archives building and rehouse its occupants in the best possible conditions.

The catastrophic housing situation in Montpellier

As we have informed on several occasions, a certain number of squats in Montpellier are in fact assuming the duties of the State to compensate for the severe deficiencies in housing and social support in the region. Let us recall that in the department alone, 44,000 applications for social housing are pending, 22,000 in the city of Montpellier, for a processing time of 36 months. In Montpellier, despite an 83% increase in emergency accommodation places in three years, according to the Prefecture’s own assessments, at least 1,500 people are homeless, without any support, including squats. Before this summer’s waves of evictions, the squats were housing at least 1,000 people.

“Today, we are seeing a change in the population that finds itself on the street. There is a huge influx of people affected by the economic crisis and the quarantine, we are in a profile of a lower middle class,” explains Jo, co-founder of the Luttopia collective. With a combatant’s path to assume in an administrative labyrinth that is often unknown to them.

During the quarantine, the presence of the Luttopia collective within the food redistribution platform was part of an unprecedented link between the public authorities and a certain number of organizations, squat collectives and associations. This one had moreover allowed the requisitioning of new places of lodging in front of the emergency of the quarantine, of which one located on the banks of the Lez and whose management was entrusted to the association Gammes, saw its operation renewed once the quarantine over.

The citizen taking in hand of the social accompaniment will have led to a certain quarantine on behalf of the Prefecture in the action of the Luttopia collective, and to the distinction between the illegal occupation of a place, and the social work carried out, today recognized. It should be noted that the collective alone handles more cases of return to common law than all the social centers in Montpellier.

A pragmatic approach to the squatting movement

It appears today that the frenzied real estate mechanics of the big cities condemn the squat movement to ever shorter and more precarious occupations, endangering the stability and living conditions of the occupants. Evictions, which sometimes bring vulnerable families into contact with police violence, are multiplying and are particularly aimed at the 48-hour delay that makes them unilaterally possible when a squat opens. At the same time, the system of access to housing is comparable to a snake biting its own tail: the delays for access to social housing in large cities exceed the validity of DALO files (12 months), which results in an administrative impossibility to access housing in this context without going through indirect channels.

“Today it is necessary to educate the population about their rights and to make them understand that we have the capacity to oblige the State to requisition” for Jo. In fact, the Élan law adopted in January 2018 obliges the State services to implement concrete measures, including the requisition of buildings, when deficiencies are found, whether in social order, housing, or culture, for example. The first decrees for the application of this law came in June 2018 thanks to the political courage of the mayor of Montreuil, Patrice Bessac, in conjunction with the Bara association.

Today, the Prefecture can no longer escape its legal duty. However, it would seem that structurally, the State is incapable of applying the law correctly, and is therefore obliged to rely on the social work carried out by citizens. An awareness that seems to have occurred today in the Hérault services, faced with the failure of the classic administrative mechanisms, and which could therefore lead to the establishment of a permanent place, where humanitarian associations, collectives, and social support organizations could carry out real social work, in the best possible conditions and with more freedom. The Prefecture has indeed said that it is “open to experimentation”.

The Luttopia collective has chosen to adopt a pragmatic strategy, militating for the application of the Law by the State while proposing its contribution to its implementation. A stance which has therefore been welcomed by the prefectural services, and which enables it to preserve the housing conditions and stability of the people concerned.

The word of the public authorities put to the test

A new appointment was made at the end of September to discuss more concretely what will be put in place. The recent eviction of the CSA Bonnard, and of the Bouisson-Bertrand squat (see this article), which was nevertheless in connection with the prefectural services, scandalized the social and humanitarian associative circles of Montpellier. The images of dozens of migrants in their sleeping bags in front of the SPADA, without any proposal for permanent re-housing that a handful of nights in a hotel, have marked the spirits. Prefectorial inaction with regard to these people was clearly contrary to the Law.

The presence of municipal representatives at this meeting is also representative of Mayor Michael Delafosse’s position. Contrary to his predecessor Philippe Saurel who had systematically refused any dialogue with the squats, the new mayor seems to have understood that the housing situation in Montpellier was concretely catastrophic, and that to subscribe to the eviction and stigmatization wishes of the squat movement would be counterproductive, all the more so when one claims to be socialist. The position of the city council at the opening of the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul squat in one of its disused buildings is a good example of the political will not to be lit up at the beginning of the term of office. It remains to be seen whether this position will be maintained throughout the term of office and lead to an active and concrete social commitment.

Collectif Luttopia,
Utopia 003, 2 avenue de Castelnau, Montpellier, France
luttopia [at] riseup [dot] net

Some squats in Montpellier
Some evicted squats in Montpellier
Some groups in Montpellier
Events in Montpellier

Refugees related groups in France
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La Mule du Pape

The eviction of the Bouisson-Betrand squat has put dozens of people out on the street, who came to apply for emergency accommodation at SPADA.