Stockholm's Social Democrat-led City Council has announced that it wants to give more help to vulnerable people who have been unable to secure first hand rental contracts in the heart of the capital.
“This could be large families, homeless people, addicts,” Green Party councillor and social affairs spokeswoman Ewa Larsson told Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
She added that the move was designed to avoid concentrating these groups in social housing projects in the Stockholm suburbs.
“We'll take a greater responsibility, we want all locals to have an opportunity to stay in their city,” added housing commissioner Ann-Margarethe Livh.
The move builds on previous projects run by SHIS, a private organisation contracted by Stockholm City Council which already provides seven-year contracts to disadvantaged groups.
Under the new plans, some homeless people will be given permanent accommodation in existing and new apartment complexes run by SHIS, which currently takes responsibility for 2,300 apartments in 22 locations around the city.
“We provide help for all kinds of people – young, old, families, people with addictions or debt problems, who live alongside other Swedes in our accommodations, bridging the gap between housing provided by social services and the regular housing market,” SHIS spokesman Fredrik Jurdell told The Local.
“They pay the rent like everybody else, although sometimes that comes from benefits. What is different is that we have specially trained staff on hand, restaurants and reception areas – facilities that provide extra support for people who live there and makes the housing more acceptable to others in the neighbourhood,” he added.
According to Jurdell, giving some residents permanent contracts will help “ease the pressure” on individuals and families currently “limited to seven years” of secure accommodation in Stockholm.
“We are talking about giving more stability to people who have really struggled. For example giving a seven-year contract to a 60 or 70-year-old addict who has spent ten years on the streets and putting him an apartment on his own out in the suburbs…well it would be better if they were among others in a place where they can get support.”
But the move is a controversial one in a city where in some areas tax payers are facing a 20 year wait for rental accomodation. This has resulted in a strong subletting culture, with prices spiralling in recent years despite rules designed to cap rental increases.
However it is backed by Sweden's largest centre-right party, the Moderates, which led the previous government.
“We see it as a continuation of “housing first”, a similar project the Alliance worked with during our mandate,” it said in a statement emailed to The Local.
Asked if he understood complaints about the plans to give first-hand contracts to homeless residents, Jurdell told The Local: “It is a relevant question. I would say that our main task is still to act as a stopgap to help people before they can get back into the regular housing market. But for some groups they could spend years in the queue and still struggle to get a permanent contract because of their problems or because they don't have references, or because there are so few apartments available for very large families. So the changes will help with this.”
The announcement by Stockholm City Council comes a day after Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven unveiled his national strategy for tackling the housing crisis, pledging that 150,000 new homes would be built each year from 2016, in a move designed to help both Swedish and international workers.
“We have a major housing shortage in Sweden. Housing is a key part of the government's labour strategy,” he told a press conference.
“A housing shortage is one of the biggest obstacles to growth, such that people cannot move wherever they want,” he added.
While in many other European countries public housing is reserved for those on lower incomes, anyone can apply for this kind of accommodation in Sweden, which is usually maintained to a high standard. Both public and privately owned apartments are available to those who register with the city's housing service.
Around one in three Swedish adults lives in rented accommodation.
Most vulnerable adults in Stockholm are already offered some form of state-subsidised social housing, in line with national guidelines, but this is not always permanent and is often in suburbs outside the city centre.
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