Covid-19 causes “social tsunami” in the degraded Paris suburb

In a rough Paris suburb, Zineb, Danielle and even Benjamina, who are in their late 70s, say they only want one thing: to desperately get back to work.

Like cities around the world, residents of Grigny, about 30 kilometers south of the French capital, are fighting after losing their jobs in the pandemic.

But this degraded city, with its sprawling high-rise, affordable housing estates, was already known as the poorest in France.

Nearly half of its 30,000 inhabitants, many of them immigrants, live below the poverty line and survive on less than 900 euros a month, according to the Observatoire des Inegalites, a non-governmental body studying inequality in France.

Grigny Mayor Philippe Rio said he fears the proportion has only increased further since the outbreak of the virus, given the number of people registering for state aid.

One of them is Benjamina Rajoharison.

Even though he was 77 years old, he used to do manual work which he said paid well.

But he has been out of work for almost a year and now he and his wife are scraping on welfare payments.

‘It’s nothing at all’

Once the monthly rent of 580 euros has been paid, the couple has 300 euros left to make ends meet until the end of the month.

“It’s nothing at all,” Rajoharison told AFP.

He hopes to find odd jobs to survive once all Covid-19-related restrictions have been removed, he said.

The couple lives on the 10th floor of a block of flats in Grigny 2, one of Europe’s largest residential complexes and also one of the most dilapidated in France.

Piles of rubbish flow at the entrance to some of the buildings whose doors are smashed.

But Rajoharison’s small studio apartment is neat and tidy and decorated with pictures of flowers.

Rio, the mayor of France’s Communist Party, says the pandemic has exacerbated poverty, especially in the residential area, which he says has become a “ticking time bomb”.

“Between March and December last year, the number of unpaid charges, including for water and heating, has virtually doubled,” he told AFP.

“And if we can not pay for the water and heating, it means we can not pay for maintenance and emergency repairs either.”

‘Social tsunami’

On a new day, a few blocks from the tower block, about 40 people waited in line for free meals and other goods distributed by the charity Restos du Coeur, which distributes packed lunches and hot meals to the needy.

The association has seen a significant jump in the number of people seeking help because of what Rio describes as the “social tsunami” caused by the pandemic.

Among those queuing is Danielle, a 21-year-old from the Ivory Coast who needs diapers and milk for her daughter.

“Before the coronavirus, my partner and I worked a little, but since the first wave of the pandemic, we have not been able to find a job,” says Danielle, who is paperless and previously made money cleaning houses.

Naima, 37, who is French-Moroccan and previously worked under temporary employment contracts, says she has seen her standard of living fall further.

“Everything has stopped because of Covid,” she lamented. “It has affected my personal life and I feel depressed.

“Thank goodness we have income support” which guarantees a minimum income for those in need.

Zineb, a Moroccan in her 30s who is also undocumented, fears losing the social interaction she currently has at the Resto du Coeur, when the winter is over.

“When I set foot in Resto du Coeur I forget my problems and feel strong and happy,” said the mother, who lives with her two children in a small, stuffy hotel room with bunk beds, a sofa bed, a small desk and kitchen utensils and plates stored. in the shower.

Many people depend on food aid to survive, although the most important challenge now is to get back to work and find work, Rio said.

“One year after the earthquake caused by the first lock, we now know that the crisis will be long-lasting,” he said.

France’s economy shrank by 8.3 percent in 2020, according to data published last month when the virus plunged countries across Europe into their deepest recessions since World War II.

Rio was among several mayors who wrote to President Emmanuel Macron last year asking for help for his city.

Since then, the government has promised to set aside one percent of its recovery plan for suburbs such as Grigny.