Édition #5

Second homes and year-roundhabitability of Alpine resorts

Quentin DROUET PhD student researcher at the EDYTEM Laboratory - UMR 5204 - CNRS - Savoie Mont Blanc University
The year-round habitability of tourist destinations has rapidly become a major concern for public authorities in the Alpine arc in recent years. In France, from the local level right up to government level, this issue is mobilising public decision-makers, with the undertaking of an inter-ministerial mission in February 2022 to assess the tensions on the housing market in tourist areas.

CONTEXT AND ISSUES

At the same time, a three-year doctoral research project has been underway since January 2022 at the Université Savoie Mont Blanc’s EDYTEM – CNRS laboratory, to offer a scientific contribution on the issue from a transalpine perspective.

The Alpine region, with its diversity of territories, institutional and legislative frameworks and cultural contexts, is an ideal perimeter for observing the same phenomenon of highly competitive property markets in different mountain areas. The positive and negative social, economic and environmental repercussions of second homes in tourist areas have been the subject of many research studies since Terry Coppock’s pioneering work in 1977. However, there is no scientific conclusion on the conditions of equilibrium to encourage sustainable habitable resorts. Numerous initiatives to regulate second homes can be observed in the tourist destinations of the Alpine arc, yet there is no assessment that compares the effectiveness of these measures.

In this context, this applied research thesis sets out to answer the following question: How and to what extent do public action and the use of second homes contribute to the resilience of permanent living?

PRESENTATION OF THE RESEARCH WORK

Operationally, this work will allow us to better characterise the residential uses of secondary residents and gain a better understanding of the factors contributing to the resilience of permanent local life in resorts. Finally, the aim is to assess the scope of public action in resorts and identify potential levers for maintaining local year-round life. 8 winter sports resort municipalities in the Alpine arc with a predominantly seasonal economy and strong real estate pressure were selected for a multiple case study. By combining an observation of municipalities experiencing a demographic downturn or, on the contrary, gaining inhabitants, the aim is to identify the factors that explain these differences. A geomatic approach1 and the consideration of a gradient of public policies and territorial contexts have helped to put together a panel of resorts with very different profiles, so as to temper the observations. Les Deux Alpes, Les Belleville, Montvalezan, La Clusaz, Nendaz (Switzerland), Kitzbühel (Austria), Badia (Italy) and Kranjska Gora (Slovenia) were the focus of regional data collection, interviews with local players, a quantitative survey of second home owners and documentary studies of legislation and town planning documents.

 

EXPECTED RESULTS…

The processing of all this information and the final report on the thesis are scheduled for the end of 2024. However, it is possible to make some initial observations and hypotheses at this stage.

In the French mountains, second homes have historically contributed to the development of accommodation capacity in resorts and their role in the regions is now the subject of controversy. The growing demand for second homes subsequently appears to be in direct competition with access to primary residences in resort areas where residential attractiveness, land constraints due to the protection of natural and agricultural areas and high-risk sectors are increasing the pressure on real estate. The pressure on land will most likely be exacerbated by the gradual implementation of zero net artificialization (ZAN) targets.

Surprisingly, the correlation between the loss of inhabitants and the increase in the proportion of second homes is not statistically significant, either in a sample of Alpine arc resorts or in a sample of French resorts. From the outset, this research allowed many other factors likely to influence the resilience of year-round living conditions in resorts to be observed. The factors that were felt to have the greatest potential influence on a region’s ability to maintain a permanent population therefore had to be selected in order to be able to verify them scientifically.
second homes in tourist areas have been the subject of many research studies since Terry Coppock’s pioneering work in 1977. However, there is no scientific conclusion on the conditions of equilibrium to encourage sustainable habitable resorts. Numerous initiatives to regulate second homes can be observed in the tourist destinations of the Alpine arc, yet there is no assessment that compares the effectiveness of these measures.

“Surprisingly, the correlation between the loss of inhabitants and the increase in the proportion of second homes is not statistically significant.”

» Hypothesis 1: regulating second homes ensures that local life is maintained year-round (building rights, quotas, taxes, control of change of use, resident status).
» Hypothesis 2: promoting access to primary residences contributes to the resilience of local life year-round (town planning, housing policy, land management, tax incentives).
» Hypothesis 3: diversifying the economy to increase the proportion of permanent jobs in relation to the dominant seasonal economy contributes to the resilience of local life year-round in resorts.
» Hypothesis 4: developing connections and intercomplementarities with neighbouring areas of the resort municipality helps to maintain local life yearround.
» Hypothesis 5: the performance of existing leisure property rentals (including second homes) mechanically reduces investment in additional furnished tourist accommodation and competition for property and land for permanent housing.
» Hypothesis 6: a minority of secondary residents are, in their practices, intermittent inhabitants contributing to the resilience of permanent life and a small proportion can become permanent inhabitants under certain conditions.

There are significant differences in the legislative frameworks for the regulation of second homes in European and Alpine countries, which raises the question of the consequences of more permissive mountain areas in relation to neighbouring regions where the property market is more regulated. Nonetheless, despite the policies adopted in Switzerland to regulate the number of second homes, with a 20% cap on the number of second homes in every municipality and an 8% cap in the Austrian Tyrol, an exceptional scope for the measures adopted, circumvention strategies by investors and developers and inadequate public controls mean that the number of second homes continues to rise in many resorts in Switzerland and Austria. However, according to the Federal Council’s report in 2021, the overall assessment of Switzerland’s Lex Weber law has been positive and the 7 years since it came into force have also dispelled fears of an economic recession in the construction industry following the introduction of limits on second homes. In fact, the building and finishing trades have found plenty of work to be done in renovating the existing stock of leisure properties. In the autonomous region of Bolzano, legislation provides for land reserves for the permanent population in municipalities where land is scarce.

The example of Badia, in the Dolomites, shows that these provisions have not meant that property prices have gone down. The developers’ business model allowed for equalisation between primary and secondary housing in mixed programmes. It is a very complex process, and the repercussions of any public measures must be assessed correctly, or risk creating undesirable effects. For example, the housing tax surcharge for second homes introduced in France on 26 August 2023 must be handled with care, to avoid encouraging the proportion of low-income secondhome owners to sell and thereby accelerate property appreciation in line with the pace of transactions (in the French resorts studied, 3% of second-home-owning households earn less than €20,000 a year and 17% between €20,000 and €40,000, according to the survey carried out during the thesis).

A PROJECT TO WATCH…

The scope of public action is complex to study, since it is difficult to isolate a public initiative from all the factors at work in a given region. The weight of factors under public control or outside the scope of
public intervention can potentially be specific to each destination, due to the diversity of characteristics that make up resort ecosystems. While it is still too early to offer any conclusions from this research, what is already certain is that local knowledge specific to each region is needed before developing a housing offer that is in line with the requirements. In the absence of an annual economy that pays sufficiently well for local people wishing to purchase a principal residence, the resorts of the Alpine arc have, until now, found few alternatives to the costly policy of increasing the supply of permanent housing under sustainable public control (Bail Réel Solidaire, Logement Locatif Social) and thereby maintaining a viable balance between an attractive destination and sustainable habitability.

••• This doctoral research has financial backing from the French government, Labex ITTEM, the Assemblée du Pays Tarentaise Vanoise and the municipalities of La Clusaz and Les Deux Alpes.

“Local knowledge specific to each region is needed before developing a housing offer that is in line with the requirements.”


1 Geomatics brings together all the knowledge and technologies required for the production, processing and dissemination of digital data (often massive, 3D and in real time) describing the region, its resources or any other object or phenomenon with a geographical position.

Quentin DROUET
Quentin DROUET
Originally from the Albertville area, he graduated in geography and urban planning in 2012 and was initially involved in urban renewal and urban policy. Since 2014, he has been working in the mountains, where the implementation of the Tarentaise Vanoise Territorial Coherence Plan (SCoT) and a Local Housing Programme have led him to undertake research into the habitability of resorts.