Addressing social challenges: A conversation with Renaud Payre, Vice President of Lyon Metropole

31 October 2023

One week ahead of the Eurocities Social Affairs Forum, which is taking place in Lyon on 8-10 November 2023, Eurocities talked with Renaud Payre, Vice President of Lyon Metropole and responsible for Housing and Urban Policy.

You became the Vice President of Lyon Metropole after being Director of Sciences Po Lyon (2016-2020). How does it feel to be able to implement policies? How do you evaluate these three years of putting ideas into practice at the local level?

I’m fortunate to have been elected to Lyon Metropole, which combines the competencies of an urban community: urban planning, public spaces, water, waste, the economy and environmental protection; and those of a department: integration, housing, colleges, child protection and policies in favour of older people, and people with disabilities. Thanks to this special status, Lyon Metropole has an excellent capacity for action to commit the territory to the ecological transition while combating social inequalities. With an annual budget of 3.6 billion euros, Lyon Metropole is committed to improving the lives of the most vulnerable. We are building a more caring and hospitable metropolis by stepping up our actions to combat extreme poverty, providing excellent protection for those living in vulnerable situations, fighting all forms of exclusion and imagining new ways of living together. I’m particularly involved in housing policies, and within Lyon Metropole, we can act on all levels, from urban planning to social support for residents. 

The EU response to the COVID emergency was a coordinated joint effort after learning from the actions taken in previous challenges, such as the economic crisis of 2009. How do you think other levels of government, such as cities and regions, can work together to tackle global threads? 

I’m not talking about global catastrophes but challenges to be met on every scale. The next major challenge will be to achieve an ecological transition that leaves no one behind. The actions of cities and metropolises complement those of Europe. We are showing the way with concrete actions, but to achieve convincing results, we need global action. I’ve been able to measure the importance of networks, such as Eurocities, for our advocacy on affordable housing and the fight against homelessness, as well as the link between employment and housing policy. 

What is Lyon Metropole’s current situation regarding housing accessibility and affordability? Feel free to provide data. What is the Metropole doing to tackle the housing challenge?  

The Lyon metropolitan area is facing a real problem in terms of affordable housing. Housing has become very complicated for the working classes but also for the middle classes. Housing is too expensive, representing 30% of a family’s budget. We also have a shortage of social housing: out of 9 requests for social housing, only one is granted in the area. 

What is the Metropole of Lyon doing to meet the housing challenge?  

Firstly, the fight against homelessness and poor housing is a priority for Lyon Metropole. Today, 22,000 people are inadequately housed. Around 2,600 people were homeless in 2022, a figure that is rising despite an increase in the number of emergency accommodation places (8,000), and an estimated 3,000 people live in squats. We are responding to this situation with a hospitality policy, enabling us to provide shelter for the public under our jurisdiction.  

Secondly, we are taking action to give citizens back the power to live, through a number of measures, including rent control in Lyon and Villeurbanne.  

Finally, we have set an ambitious target for the production of social housing, which is currently facing a construction crisis. We have set up an emergency plan worth 10 million euros to enable social landlords to buy newly constructed housing units that are not bought on the traditional housing buy back new housing units that are unable to be marketed. 

Access to housing and the rise in homelessness are two main challenges cities face across Europe. However, poverty has deeper roots, and the increased cost of living only aggravates households’ economic situation. Is there anything that Lyon Metropole has been able to implement to tackle poverty or improve the population’s standard of living? 

The fight against poverty is one of our priority commitments. At the start of our term of office, we made part of the land available to set up tiny Houses for single mothers with children under three and young people. We aim to provide them with a form of autonomy through these small, fully-equipped homes. We have succeeded in offering shelter to hundreds of people. Nevertheless, there are still enormous challenges ahead, and we need Europe to help us meet them to ensure that homelessness is eliminated. 

How can urban planning guarantee social inclusion? What an ideal social-friendly planning would entitle?  

Urban planning makes it possible to set up mixed-use social sectors in local communities. In every new development, we introduce 1/3 social housing. This is how we use the Local Urban and Housing Plan (PLUH) as leverage for inclusion. But that is not enough: we have to experiment. We have set up a district dedicated to the issue of inclusion for older people and people with disabilities, and why we’re involved in creating 42 inclusive housing projects. 

Can you briefly walk us through the following initiatives implemented by Lyon Metropole? 

Territories with zero long-term unemployment: The national experiment ‘Territoires Zéro Chômeur Longue Durée’ (Zero Long-Term Unemployed Territories) is now being rolled out in four areas of the Lyon Metropolitan Area: Villeurbanne Saint-Jean / Lyon 8ème La Plaine Santy / Saint-Fons : Arsenal – Carnot – Parmentier and Villeurbanne Les Brosses. It aims to end long-term unemployment by mobilising all local players: local authorities, associations, businesses, citizens, and, first and foremost, the long-term unemployed. This innovative approach was born of a threefold conviction: that no-one is unemployable, that there is no shortage of work when you start from the needs of an area, and, finally, that financing a useful job costs the community less than the consequences of joblessness.  

– Housing first: this is a government initiative in which Lyon Metropole has been involved since 2018. Lyon Metropole is speeding up the process to enable people leaving medical institutions, prisons or with insufficient resources for housing, to access a roof over their heads. Housing first means providing independent accommodation, social support where needed, and security over time. We need Europe’s help to mobilise the private sector and get them on board.  

– Eradicating homelessness: this question is linked to the issue of housing first, which is an essential program in our policy to eradicate homelessness. The aim is to offer sustainable housing solutions, not just hostel accommodation. Nevertheless, the situation remains worrying despite our efforts. The future depends on our ability to mobilise private landlords to support them with rental mediation or refurbishment of accommodation so that they can participate in providing shelter.     

 – Integration of migrants: integration requires a change in the way we look at migration. Ahead of the Eurocities Social Affairs Forum, we are organizing the hospitality biennial. For ten days, we’re offering a wide range of events, debates, conferences and meetings to discuss these issues freely. But if we are to move forward, we need the State to commit and authorise more than just regularisation through employment. 

In your opinion, what policy changes are necessary at the EU and national governmental level to enhance social services and support for vulnerable populations? 

We need to focus our efforts on housing because, nowadays, Europeans can no longer do that in the face of ever-higher increasing costs and the financing of the housing market. All European cities are facing an explosion in homelessness. Companies are finding it hard to recruit because it’s becoming too difficult to find housing in the areas where the jobs are located. That’s why housing needs to become a European competence. This is the plea we need to make collectively in the coming elections. 



Marta Buces Eurocities Writer