Pension famille: the French model for sustainable housing?
In France, in 1997, the Ministry for housing and social action launched a program to give people who, often having lived on the streets or in shelters or coming out of prison, are at the margins of society and have complex needs. The "family pension” (pension famille) model provides permanent, small-scale accommodation, with a number of units varying between 15 and 25. The model combines independent studio flats for single people with common spaces as a shared kitchen and living room. Every accommodated person benefits from a written contract that specifies, in particular, the premises and equipment for private use made available to him/her.
The concept is based on the idea to both allow autonomy and provide the necessary support to vulnerable clients and foster social connection by encouraging social interaction and the organisation of collective activities such as shared meals. ”Hosts” are available daily to facilitate common interaction, provide a connection with local social and health services, and support when needed. These hosts are generally social workers.
In France, there are currently 819 family pensions as the government had set itself the goal of creating 10,000 new places in family pensions between 2017 et 2022, adding to the already existing 15000 places.
In 2006, two other forms of “family pensions were set up for specific categories of clients: elderly people and people suffering from mental disabilities. The “hosting residence” (residence accueil), for instance, targets people suffering from mental illness. Just as traditional family pensions these residences consist of a small number of housing units with common areas. Furthermore, they are adapted to the specific needs of people suffering from mental illness. These residences are partnered with social support services, such as the medico-social support service for adults with disabilities (SAMSAH) and the social support service (SAVS).
Some examples are the family pension in Borie, in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region that hosts around twenty people and the “House nearby” (La Maison d'A Côté) in Île-de-France, an old village house, renovated into 7 individual dwellings: five units for single men or women and two units for single-parent families. In a family pension in Voiron, a nurse is part of the permanent staff of the family pension, giving clients the possibility to get health care on a regular basis.
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