Winter 2020

French Tenants Fight for Mandatory Retrofits


Aline Mayanu lives in a social housing apartment in Aubervilliers in the northern suburbs of Paris and spends up to 3000€ each year on heating, more than 15% of her income, putting her, like 2 million French, in a situation of energy poverty. Health issues add to financial problems because her children have chronic bronchitis. All this comes from a very poorly insulated appartement where Aline recorded temperature of 10°C in the morning in an early February day. She and her neighbor have organized a tenant union and joined the Alliance Citoyenne (ACORN France) to change the situation.

In France, badly insulated homes are nicknamed thermal strainer homes. Tenants unions and ecology groups have used this label to help to name the issue and push the political agenda as a social and climate priority. Homes are classified with a diagnoses of energy performances (DEP) starting with A (perfect insulation) to G (very bad insulation). F and G are the thermal strainers homes whose inhabitants have colossal heating bills.

Eradicating these thermal strainer homes has become a major goal. This objective is close to being met in public housing. The social housing stock counts 7% of units labeled F and G compared to 19% in private housing stock. ACORN tenants unions and others have pushed hard to finish the job by 2023. The urgency of the energy transition requires us to demand that public housing agencies take the responsibility to lead on energy renovation.

Collective actions on this issue have started in 2016, with a first campaign in Grenoble. They then spread to the Paris region where it has gained momentum over the last year. The housing sector in France represents 25% of greenhouse gas emissions. Taking up the tenants unions claim, the Citizens’ Climate Convention set up by President Macron in 2020 proposed to make the global renovation of thermal strainer homes mandatory.



The government issued a decree in 2021 which was a first national victory. The government decree for the first time a linked the energy consumption in housing with indecency, given that the indecency of an appartment makes the housing retrofit mandatory for the owner. This gives tenants new leverage against landlords reluctant to repair their homes.

The government postponed this obligation to 2028, much later than the Citizens Convention proposal and the ACORN members’ demands. The years of delay will cost more than 10,000€ from modest families in excessive heating fees, while they are already struggling at the end of the month. In all, it could be up to 20 billion euros of thermal surcharges paid by low-income families, ten times the annual volume of the wealth tax collected from the rich in the whole country; a massively unfair transfer of wealth. A Greenpeace expert calculated that the postponement to 2028 would generate up to 11 million tons of CO2 that could be avoided (that’s double the emissions in one year for domestic flights producing 4.5 million tons). Even worse, the Housing minister proposed in December 2020 a new system of calculation in the energy classifications taking hundreds of thousands of houses out of the F and G categories if the heating system was electric. Aline’s home and her neighbours in Aubervilliers were caught in this reclassification.

Aline and other ACORN members of Aubervilliers, Saint Ouen and Saint Denis launched public actions and were joined by tenants in Lyon, Grenoble and Montpellier. A petition quickly gained 3,500 signatures, sit-ins in front of the city hall or buildings housing the local MPs offices, raised local then national media attention. In Lyon, the tenants living in thermal strainers homes boarded a « popular ecology bus and raided the cities officials in different part of the cities. They invited MPs to come to sleep in their thermal strainer appartements and were star speakers during the Climate march in front of 50,000 persons. An action with Greenpeace in front of the Ministry in Paris led to further discussion with the Minister.

After a new meeting with stakeholders, the arbitration with the government on the reform of the diagnoses of energy performances (DEP) was unexpectedly favorable. Eventually, the new classification system reinstated Aline’s home and the 800,000 similar appartements and houses into the category requiring mandatory retrofits. According to Jack Azoulay, Minister Barbara Pompili’s chief of staff, the media coverage on Aline and the Aubervilliers cases was decisive in swaying the government.

 This victory was encouraging for the coalition. The alliance of “shows that the coalition of housing experts, our Greenpeace environmental activists and tenants unions of ACORN are a powerful changemaker, explained the Greenpeace campaign director. We are on the right track. Our message is good and hits the mark”.  The climate law is still disappointing because the 2028 timeline is too far. But the campaign achievements have brought hundreds of tenants into the local unions and thousand of climate justice activists have joined to support them. The campaign’s next stage is named Zero thermal strainer home in my district. The goal is to push local authorities to go faster than what the law recquires. With District elections coming this summer, there are already candidates who have endorsed the campaign.

From local campaigns to national campaign and then back to local campaigning, Aline and other tenants are fighting to scale up to an international campaign, if possible. Similar circumstances "have been found in Belgium, the Netherlands, Scotland, and Canada. The Cop 26 will take place in Scotland where the Living Rent tenants’ union, affiliated to ACORN international, is powerfully effective. Aline’s fight goes much beyond her family and appeals to the millions that live in similiar homes. This is a social and climate justice fight, and it won’t end until it is victorious both in France and international.

ADRIEN ROUX is the head organizer and national director of the Alliance Citoyenne, ACORN, headquartered in Grenoble, France with offices in the Paris region and Lyon.


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