Two year wait for Stockholm flat: report

The wait for a rental apartment in Stockholm averages 104 weeks, rising to as much as 20 years for attractive areas. In many comparable EU cities apartments can be found immediately and often at little or no extra cost, a new survey shows.

Two year wait for Stockholm flat: report

“We have known for a long time that the waiting time for a rental apartment in Stockholm is longer than in the rest of Europe. But that the difference was this great surprised even us,” said Mia Enayatollah at the Swedish Property Federation (Fastighetsägarna), which has conducted the survey.

The federation compared the waiting lists and number of vacant apartments for rent in eight European cities of an equivalent size to Stockholm.

In Stockholm the average prospective tenant has to search for two years to put pen to paper on a rental contract. In six of the cities studied in the comparison there was no wait at all, and in the seventh, Amsterdam, the search took one to five weeks.

“This is a result of the fact that in Stockholm we have had a politically managed market for rental apartments for decades,” said Mia Enayatollah.

The survey also shows that neither long waits nor a strict political regulatory system bring rewards in the way of lower rents.

The survey in fact shows that Berlin, where an apartment can be found without delay, enjoys the lowest rents of the eight cities studied.

Furthermore Brussels, Amsterdam and Madrid all have apartments available, with little or no wait, at rental levels similar or only slightly higher than Stockholm, the only city in the comparison with a general rent control system in place.

The survey looks at the market for rental apartments in Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Brussels, Amsterdam, Madrid and Berlin. The wait times were compiled with statistics for 2009 and rents were compared according to the Bloomberg Ikea Billy bookshelf index.

The Local spoke to Anna Wennerstrand at the Swedish Union of Tenants (Hyresgästföreningen) on Monday who argued that regulated rents have nothing to do with the problem.

“The short answer is that too few apartments are built. It is quite a particular market that is difficult to compare.”

When asked what should be done about Stockholm’s problems, Wennerstrand replied:

“The government needs to offer more support. Their policies favour the construction of tenant-owner apartments and houses.”

As all longer-term visitors to Stockholm are acutely aware, there exists an informal “second-hand” rental market that allows those in possession of rental contracts, and owners of tenant-owner (bostadsrätt) apartments and houses, to sublet their homes.

This market is not directly controlled but is subject to the same regulations with regard to rents that apply to the regular rental market. In reality rents are often much higher in reflection of the relatively high costs paid for the properties.

Furthermore, “first-hand” rental contracts often change hands for significant sums of money.

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OPINION: Sweden’s ‘historic investment’ has failed to solve the housing crisis

Five years after Sweden's government promised to solve the country's housing crisis with a "historic investment", things are as bad as ever, David Crouch argues. Radical action is needed.

OPINION: Sweden's 'historic investment' has failed to solve the housing crisis

Forced to move house 20 times in the past eight years, Maria’s situation was desperate. She and her daughter had arrived in Stockholm from Latin America in search of a better life. She found work, no problem – but housing was impossible.

“Sometimes I was paying 12,000kr in rent and it was very hard because I only had 15,000kr in monthly salary,” says Maria (not her real name). So she took a high-interest loan of 240,000kr and tried to bribe someone in the Housing Agency to get to the front of the queue for affordable housing.

But she was caught. Her fate is unknown. And she didn’t even get an apartment.

This recent story, in the excellent newspaper of the Tenants’ Association, sums up the problems facing people who move here to work. The market for rental accommodation is tight as a drum. Finding a home means competing with Swedes, but with all the disadvantages of being an outsider. So people find themselves pushed into short-term, insecure rental contracts at inflated prices.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Five years ago this month, the government announced a “historic investment in housing”, including subsidies for construction companies, easing restrictions on building permits, and making more land available.

The housing situation at the time was grim. Spotify had threatened to leave Sweden if things didn’t improve – how could the company attract skilled young people to a city where there was nowhere for them to live? More than half Stockholm’s population – 600,000 people – were in the queue for a coveted rental apartment, because strict regulation meant these rents were low. But it took as long as 20 years to get to the front of that queue.

The result was a thriving rental property black market, with large bribes changing hands. Many tenants exploited the situation by sub-letting their homes, or parts of them. “It is almost impossible for immigrants and new arrivals to penetrate this market – it is all about who you know and how much money you have,” said Billy McCormac, head of the Fastighetsägarna property association, in 2015.


So what has been the outcome of the grand promises the government made five years ago? House-building at the time was already rising steadily, and it has continued to do so. Look around you in the big cities and you will see that new apartment blocks have sprung up here and there.

But we shouldn’t go only on appearances. To understand the reality, we need to look at some numbers.

The gap between demand for housing and the existing housing stock has indeed started to shrink. “As housing construction has gradually increased and population growth has begun to slow down, the gap has decreased since 2017,” Stockholm’s Housing Agency noted in December.

The Agency has broken records four years in a row for the number of rental homes it has provided. The proportion of young adults living independently has also increased somewhat, the Tenants’ Association found, probably due to the pace of construction.

But this smidgen of good news is outweighed by an avalanche of bad.

The average queuing time in 2021 for a Stockholm apartment was more than 9 years; for somewhere in the city centre you have to wait 18 years. Only 936 homes came with a waiting time of less than one year. More than three-quarters of a million people are now registered in the queue for housing – a big increase on five years ago.

The rate at which the housing shortage is shrinking is nowhere near fast enough to alleviate the huge accumulated demand.

Assuming that the current pace of construction can be maintained, it will be the end of this decade before any significant dent is made in the deficit of homes, according to Boverket – the Swedish National Board of Housing, Building and Planning. The current rate of construction is “only marginally more than the long-term need”, it says.

The challenge is even greater when it comes to producing affordable housing, Boverket says, especially for the young and those entering the housing market for the first time. Almost one in four young Swedes up to the age of 27 are forced to live at home – the second-highest figure since the measurements began.

There are already signs that housing construction is actually slowing down, owing to higher building material prices, rising interest rates and an incipient labour shortage. Construction prices rose by more than 8 percent last year, and there is concern in the industry that war in Ukraine will further affect costs, in turn slowing the pace of building.

There is another fly in the ointment, a consequence of the collapse of Sweden’s governing coalition in November. The new, minority administration was forced to adopt the opposition’s budget, which halted investment subsidies for house building, throwing the construction industry into confusion.

In short, the “Swedish model” for providing people with a roof over their heads is failing. The folkhemmet, or “people’s home”, has not enough homes for its people.

Swedes themselves understand this: in a survey last month, nine out of ten voters said they thought that politicians did not take the housing shortage seriously.

We have waited too long. It is time for fresh thinking and radical action to solve the housing crisis.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University