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'Sweden has to act now to solve housing crisis'

The Local · 24 Mar 2015, 08:00

Published: 24 Mar 2015 08:00 GMT+01:00

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Sweden needs a long term and sustainable housing policy for everyone. The housing shortage puts future growth at risk, decreases mobility and hampers matching actors on the labour market. It requires that the state is more active and supports local councils in their responsibility to provide housing. We will not solve the housing shortage overnight, but we can take decisive steps to create sustainable conditions for the future.

Today, close to 300,000 young adults between 20 and 27 years of age are without property. Over half of Sweden's local authorities state that they have a housing shortage. The acute housing shortage above all hits the regions' bigger cities and Sweden's university towns. This extensive urbanization puts higher demands on who we build for, but also on how we build Sweden.

The housing shortage also impacts on new arrivals to the country, who have left war and persecution and who, with their permits to stay, have gained new hope of a better life in Sweden. Their opportunities to establish themselves in Swedish society risk delay if they have to spend too much time in an asylum centre. A quick transition to a functioning residence is necessary to give people a good start in society.

The properties we build today should stand for many years. From a climate and environmental perspective it is therefore important that we use those means available to get it right from the start. In the area of housing and city development politics there are several important tools available to handle the climate challenge and turn society in a sustainable direction. When we build accommodation that is close to other housing, multistorey and with fewer parking spots we also create opportunities for more affordable and space efficient homes.

Too few homes are being built in Sweden. There is a deficit of rented apartments on the property market no matter the geographical location. The demand for small apartments in particular is great. The housing shortage creates long queues for rented apartments and expensive apartments for buying. This makes it harder for young people and students above all to get their feet on the housing ladder, particularly as many in that group don't have a permanent job.

Sweden's Housing Minister Mehmet Kaplan. Photo: Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman/SvD/TT

The government's goal is clear: to solve the housing shortage more homes need to be built. Our goal is 250,000 homes by 2020. The focus should be on sustainable homes that are available for people with ordinary incomes. Several active measures in several areas are needed to make this a reality.

1. The state takes a greater responsibility for more housing

Sweden has a serious housing shortage. The situation is exceptional and requires that the state moves in to support local authorities with their responsibility to provide housing. After several decades of housing shortage it is clear that the market alone cannot solve this in Sweden. For that reason, the state needs to assume greater financial responsibility to ensure more homes are built. The incentive for more housing construction is important to the whole society's progress – people have the right to have a good home and that's a prerequisite for the development of industries, higher education and all areas of growth.

2. Focus on young people, students and new arrivals

The acute lack of housing hits young people, students and new arrivals the hardest. To quickly ensure functioning accommodation for these groups, the government is currently investigating several proposals. One, for example, concerns streamlining the delivery and building of modern and flexible modular homes. These can, in a flexible way, be used as homes for new arrivals but also as student housing. The government also sees a need to ensure the security of those subletting, which is something many young people, students and new arrivals do. We have ordered Boverket to evaluate the law of subletting your own home, to get a clearer picture of its consequences.

3. Sustainable urban planning

The new buildings of today are usually of good quality as far as energy efficiency goes. We need to focus more on reducing carbon emissions from building material and the construction process itself, as well as making older properties more energy efficient, especially those apartment blocks built as part of the Million Programme ['Miljonprogram', a public housing progamme implemented in the 1960s and 70s in Sweden]. When the government's budget was voted down last autumn, several of the measures were delayed, but the government's energy efficiency ambitions remain.

4. Public transport investment opens the door to more homes

Investing in public transport is also an investment in more homes. The Swedish Transportation Authority's (Trafikverket) government mandate about so called 'urban environment agreements' means that local and regional authorities should be able to apply for the state to co-sponsor local and regional investments in public transport. This can, in turn, open the door for new, attractive locations for property construction. The housing plans being realized in Stockholm county thanks to decisions on extending the underground demonstrate how effective investments in public transport can be to create housing.

5. Increased competition

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Today only a few actors dominate the housing construction market. This decreases the chances for smaller companies to compete and risks making construction more expensive. This coming autumn an inquiry into the lack of competition in the construction industry will be presented. The government will then look at the measures we need to take to increase competition, decrease the cost of building and make it easier for smaller firms to compete for, for example, municipal land allocation agreements.

6. Efficient construction processes create cheaper housing

Building homes needs to be done faster. Construction rules need to be simplified and the process from decision-making to a complete house must be made more efficient. Today, for example, extended appeals processes can delay construction starts by several years and make the projects significantly more expensive. The government is currently looking at the role of the regional councils for the purpose of streamlining the construction process without putting judicial security at risk nor the important democratic influence on urban development.

The housing shortage can only be solved through more homes, which would increase housing market mobility. The difficult situation on the housing market requires that society to a greater extent gives active support to local authorities wishing to build more homes. Through active housing policies we can meet the future in an economically, socially and ecologically sustainable way and at the same time build the Sweden of the future.

This is a translated article originally written by Sweden's Minister for Housing, Urban Development and Information Technology, Mehmet Kaplan, and published in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

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