Pour répondre à un problème sociétal majeur de logement des personnes aux plus bas revenus, la Foncière Chênelet « déplace les lignes » et propose un habitat écologique de très haute qualité pour les personnes les plus vulnérables. L’ambition n’est pas d’entreprendre pour de l’argent, mais pour des idées. François Marty est un entrepreneur avec de la suite dans les idées ! Construire et réhabiliter là où les autres bailleurs ne vont pas, en apportant une solution à des élus qui n’envisagent plus de réponses aux besoins de leurs territoires. Militant pour cette économie de demain, François veut prouver que ça marche. Créer de beaux logements confortables, écologiques, adaptés au handicap et au vieillissement qui répondent aux enjeux des territoires en utilisant des matériaux naturels et des ressources locales. Pour cela, il s’appuie sur un réseau d’entreprises locales et d’insertion, dont les salariés sont formés à ce type de construction, permettant ainsi l’insertion par le travail de chômeurs de longue durée dans un secteur porteur.
Aujourd’hui, ce sont plus de 101 logements construits et plus de 360 personnes relogées qui ont pu bénéﬁcier des logements de la Foncière Chênelet. Elle est présente dans 6 régions françaises, et son actionnariat est composé de grandes entreprises, banques et fonds éthiques.
QUI EST-IL ?
François Marty dépeint sa jeunesse comme celle d’un gamin en difficulté de la région parisienne. Mal en famille, mal à l’école, il passera une partie de son adolescence chez les moines. Le labeur lui est présenté comme une solution et non pas comme une condamnation. Plus tard, il imagine de créer les entreprises à but social en France. Executive MBA à HEC et ancien directeur du cabinet du ministre de l’ESS (Économie Sociale et Solidaire) dans les années 90, il mène une vie d’entrepreneur axé sur la réinsertion des autres.
Today, around 5 million families are entitled to low-income housing in France. Each city with more than 20,000 people is supposed to guarantee 20 percent of its housing is public. However, this figure is rarely met. It is estimated that 800,000 accommodations are missing to fulfill the social housing demands. In early 2007, massive waves of protestors took to the streets in French cities to demand improvements in social housing. In winter, hundreds of tents were set up to host the homeless and poorly-housed. A new law was set guaranteeing the legal right to housing, and the government announced the construction of 100,000 houses. To date, one-and-a-half years later, only forty have been built. There are many reasons why cities do not meet their obligations. Low-income housing is unpopular to build because people fear a rise in criminal activity and a deterioration of their living standards. Also, should they want to order housing projects, municipalities and social housing operators are faced with the difficulty of finding contractors. The construction sector is experiencing a real bottleneck; with an estimated absence of 75,000 construction workers to fulfill the sector demand. For construction companies, building low-income housing is not very profitable and they prioritize other more lucrative construction projects. In particular, the sector of ecological construction is still very new in France, and is reserved for the elite who are able to afford expensive materials and a qualified workforce.
After qualifying for a social housing operator status, François built the pilot projects in his community and has thus demonstrated to municipalities that it is possible to build ecologically for the poor. His success has enthused mayors who want to improve their image while fulfilling their legal obligations. If Chenelet construction costs are higher (€1,600 (US$2,100) per square meter versus an average €1,500 (US$1,985) for regular housing projects), the cost of living in a house is on average thirty percent lower than other low-income accommodation, and therefore guarantees more consistent rent repayments. This allows for social housing operators to recover their investment quickly, and make a profit, compared to the millions they lose in unpaid rent every year. François is shifting the perception of the value of a house, to be measured over time and not at construction, and works with banks to create new types of loans over longer periods of time to give low-income groups access to real estate.
With the demand to increase the impact of his work, François must increase the construction capacity of the housing sector. He has detailed Chenelet’s work processes and created a quality label for the dissemination of his work: 1) In his lumber factory in the north of France, François produces standard construction elements, with techniques that allow for employment and training of people who have long been excluded from the job market; 2) With each municipality, Chenelet handles the commercial deal and manages the relationship with local operators; 3) Through local consultation and research he works with local architects to design houses that respond to local needs and use local materials and expertise; 4) François identifies and trains local social construction firms, employing long-term unemployed, especially to participate on high-value, ecological elements of the construction value chain; 5) After a careful adhesion and labeling process, these companies can join the Chenelet Network and may independently develop their local market of low-income ecological houses, but always with a high level quality control.
Through this process, François is ensuring the creation and growth of in ecological social housing sector. He is also training thousands of the most marginalized to ecological construction techniques and bringing them back into the job market.
After building his pilot houses in 2001, François designed and improved his process to meet the growing number of orders. He is focusing his efforts on building the Chenelet brand, guaranteeing its quality, and developing the Chenelet Network to fulfill the thousands of demands he has received. To date, he has identified and is training eight social enterprises to form the seeds of the network, which should allow him to meet 300 orders in the coming year.
To guarantee the sustainability of his community, but also to provide employment to the numerous immigrant refugees his community was assisting, he embarked with a few friends to set up his first business in the 1980s. They chose lumber—or more specifically, wooden shipping pallets—because of the low qualifications required and the availability of wood in the area. Growing quickly, this cooperative company acquired an expert ERP system and soon specialized in customized pallets. With 130 workers in professional insertion (formerly unemployed and disqualified), SPL is now the leader in its market in Europe, and has branched out to include its own ecological lumber mill and truck delivery service. On principle, François insists on not being paid more than any other employee and earns €1,200 (US$1,600) a month.
His experience as an entrepreneur led him to meet business leaders, politicians, and ecologists, and he struggled with the idea that their different voices could not be united. He went on to pursue an executive MBA at HEC, France’s leading business school, and began to look for ways to shift the paradigm, which led him to write several books and work with the Environment Minister’s cabinet in the late 1990s. It was when he started to reflect on how to secure housing for his employees that he built the first Chenelet houses. He became obsessed with the idea that ecological housing was the key to the low-income housing crisis, and transitioned away from his former company, with a strong desire to work full-time on the development of Chenelet.
François is married and a father of five.
Featured in Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World, by Bev Schwartz (2012)