Swedish students to live inside steel containers

Shipping containers are set to be rented out to students in a bid to solve Sweden's chronic housing shortage. The Local has spoken to the company behind them - and to one council feeling the housing strain.

Swedish students to live inside steel containers
A 'before' picture of one of the containers that will house Swedish students. Photo: XLNT Living

65 mobile homes are currently being built in Stockholm suburb Sundbyberg. Swedish building company XLNT Living has created the 26 square metre apartments from former steel containers. But the firm's founder, Elman Azari, told The Local that they are just like any other modern newly built home.

“One of our challenges has been to get people to understand that they are in fact be quite decent to live in. They're spacious – a lot more spacious than most student apartments – and they meet all standard requirements in terms of ventilation, light and so on. It's just a question of mindset: inside they're just like any other home. You absolutely don't feel like you live in a nasty, closed container,” he said.

Sweden's housing shortage was a key campaign issue at the last general election. Close to 300,000 young adults between 20 and 27 years of age neither own their own property nor have a long term rental contract.

The current accommodation shortage is particularly acute in the capital Stockholm, where in some parts of the city there is a 20-year wait for apartment seekers. This has resulted in a strong subletting culture, with prices spiralling in recent years despite rules designed to cap rental increases.

“Mobile homes could solve many parts of the housing shortage problem in Sweden today. Politics is the only obstacle. Of course more permanent homes need to be built as well, but in the meantime mobile homes are one solution,” said Anzari.

“The benefit is that you can adapt how many homes you build to the current situation. Say for example if you need to build more refugee housing. Then you can look at 'okay, we think we're going to get X number of refugees this year' and build accordingly. But in five years' time, the world situation may have changed, and then you can adapt to that,” he added.

One of the planned 26 square metre mobile apartments. Photo: XLNT Living

Sweden's housing minister, Mehmet Kaplan, wrote in an opinion piece published by The Local in March that the government's goal is to build 250,000 homes by 2020 to solve the acute housing crisis. His comments were echoed by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven.

“The housing shortage creates social problems. Many young people remain at home for a longer time than they and their parents had thought. People are finding it harder to live their lives. This is a freedom issue," Löfven told reporters last month.

Mobile homes are a common concept in countries with high population density such as the Netherlands and Germany. And in Sweden, one council that has felt the housing strain is Sundbyberg, just outside of Stockholm. It is Sweden's geographically smallest municipality, with one of the country's highest population densities of almost 5,000 people per square kilometre.

“We must try to find all possible ways forward to deal with the housing shortage. It inhibits Stockholm's competitiveness, because it makes it hard to welcome people to the capital,” council chairman Jonas Nygren told The Local on Thursday.

The 65 mobile homes being built is the first stage of 220 planned student homes in Sundbyberg, which includes permanent housing as well as mobile apartments.

Nygren said that one of Sundbyberg's main objectives is to build more homes for young people, but he added that more local authorities need to step up to the plate.

“We are frustrated by the fact that there's so little happening and there are so few innovative solutions. These containers are genius, because they let you use ground were you would otherwise need to wait years to build permanent housing,” he said.

“But ultimately, what will solve the housing crisis is a political will, which is missing in many municipalities. Hundreds of thousands of new homes need to be built in the next few years. In the meantime, these mobile homes are a temporary solution, a complement to everything else that has to be done.”

What do you think of the steel containers? Would you live in one? Post your comments below

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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