All week long, franceinfo is stopping in a town in France a few days before the 1st round of municipal elections. Friday March 13, direction Sète, in Occitanie, where the price of real estate continues to climb, increasing inequalities with the working-class districts of the city.
“I feel more and more differences here in Sète, between the rich, that is to say the new arrivals, and the poor.” Michèle, resident of the island of Thau since 2004 and member of the neighborhood committee, calls out to us when she sees our journalists’ material. She does not like the way the city of Sète is gentrifying and fears that her neighborhood will be further sidelined.
In 18 years in office, the outgoing mayor, François Commeinhes, who is running his own succession, has developed the city’s real estate and tourist appeal. It is these subjects that ignite the debates with the six other candidates for the municipality of Sète who accuse him of neglecting the middle-class Sétois who can no longer find housing. The “concreteization” of the city is at the heart of the countryside of this town of 43,000 inhabitants. The latest example is the destruction of the Carmel convent, bought by a real estate developer in 2016 to build a residential complex of 131 homes.
In parallel, the municipality launched with the State and the Occitanie region a vast plan to renovate the Thau district. Nearly 29 million euros will be injected, but on the spot the inhabitants have above all the impression of being put away from the city.
A housing policy which “changes the whole identity of the city”
Jean-Claude Reilles has lived on the island of Thau since 1976 and here everyone knows him and stops to greet him, like Michèle, both are part of the neighborhood committee: “Here he is respected, he has been fighting for us for so many years, to make us heard in the municipality.”
Investing in the neighborhood associations since 1977, Jean-Claude Reilles knew the island of Thau at its beginnings, when neighborhood life was dynamic: “Before here, life was bustling with a party and neighborhood committee, a carnival, a social center.” However, in recent decades the situation has changed a lot: “The town hall razed the neighborhood house, closed the social center or the MJC which was three years old. Suddenly, there isn’t much left in the neighborhood. ”
A decline that the city is trying to stop with this large renovation plan of 29 million euros, which Jean-Claude Reilles takes with caution: “The money injected to improve the neighborhood is always positive, but the most important thing is to know what we are going to do with it. When you renovate the facades, it is above all a hide-and-seek. I have seen five or six of the renovation plans, the first was in 1985. All those billions of euros invested since the beginning have not improved people’s lives. In the end, it rather kept them in their precariousness. ”
Another reason for frustration for Jean-Claude Reilles, the housing policy led by the municipality: “It is also at the heart of the discussions here. Finding accommodation in Sète is very complicated and it will quickly become impossible. The rents are too high and the old beautiful houses are bought by bling bling retirees who come from outside… This changes the whole philosophy and identity of the city. ”
According to the latest report from the Chambre des notaires de l’Hérault, the market for old houses has increased significantly. Prices have increased by 30% since 2004. At the same time, the poverty rate in Sète, of 25%, is not falling and is well above the national average (14.7%) according to an INSEE report. published in 2019.
Jean-Claude Reilles admits that the prevailing feeling on the island of Thau, a few days before the first round of municipal elections, is “Fatality” : “People haven’t seen a change so far, so why would this election change anything when you look at the city’s housing policy in recent years?”
Jean-Claude Reilles still wants to continue to believe in it and ends by addressing the seven candidates: “Be more in the dialogue with the Sétois who make the identity of the municipality.”
Municipal: the problem of gentrification in Sète. Farida Nouar’s report
>> The list of candidates for municipal elections in Sète