The Local investigates

Should more people live on boats in Stockholm?

Should more people live on boats in Stockholm?
House boats at Pampas Marina. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT
Living on a boat in Stockholm used to be the preserve of the rich. But as the city's housing crisis swells, could more affordable floating accommodation help provide a solution to the shortage? The Local investigates.

Nestled in southern Solna, just across the water from one of Stockholm's most popular beaches, Hornsbergs strand, is Pampas Marina. It is one of the most elite spots in Stockholm to own a property. But the homes here are not multi-level eighteenth century apartments or luxury new penthouses with giant balconies, they are brightly coloured wooden house boats.

Along this stretch of water there are twenty permanently moored aqua villas, where around 45 residents live year-round. A total of around 100 people make up the wider floating community, docking in the marina on large sailing boats during the summer months. There's also a restaurant and a canoe hire store and harbour staff are on hand to help with repairs and sales.

Madeleine Grimhusen's aquavilla. Photo: Private

“Before, we were living on the other side of Pampas Marina and we could see it from where our apartment was. It was love at first sight”, says Madeleine Grimhusen, a mother-of-four who greets The Local warmly at her family's home.

“We always have friends visiting – like today. We are proud of our beautiful city of Stockholm and of our houseboat, called Love & Light,” says the 42-year-old who works as a motivational speaker, while her husband Christopher has a career in comedy and television production.

But how does the family cope during the city's notoriously freezing and light-starved winters?

“We have heating and a fireplace. It’s like a regular house…cosy nights.. I actually like it more,” explains Madeleine.

“The winter is calmer; there are not as many people as in summertime where then are lot of boats, kayaks and people swimming from the deck. Wintertime is about ice-skating, playing with the snow and we go to school walking on ice!”

The view from Madeleine Grimhusen's aquavilla. Photo: Private

The dining area in the aquavilla. Photo: Private

The family's lifestyle comes with a price tag. Aquavillas can fetch up to ten million kronor ($11.8m) and people can spend ten to twenty years on the waiting list.

But Richard Bergström, who founded Pampas Marina in 2003, says that his inbox is regularly flooded with requests from people who have the resources and drive to move into the area.

“In the last fifteen years, 15 to 25,000 people have requested to live here I am still receiving emails every day,” he explains.

And as Stockholm's elite continue to scramble for a spot, there are signs that growing numbers of other locals are opting to find more affordable ways to experience boat life.

This includes living year-round on sailing boats, which has been allowed in Stockholm since 2001, but remains banned in some other parts of Sweden.

The rules for living on a boat in the city are complex, but in theory is possible if the vessel is more than 12 metres long and four metres wide. The boat must be formally registered, taxed and kept in a decent condition.

Ports of Stockholm (Stockholms Hamnar), the authority which is responsible for the development and maintenance of inner-city quays, says that demand is currently so high that has no free berths available for people looking to relocate to the city's waterfront.

And Bergström tells The Local he understands that between 150 and 200 people are currently living on boats in Stockholm without the right paperwork.

Olivia Dellow who lives on a boat. Photo: Private

Olivia Dellow, 22, grew up in a sailing family and has recently been living on her sailing boat docked between the islands of Kastellholmen and Skeppsholmen.

“I have travelled around the world since I was very young and for me it felt unnatural to settle down in a flat in a city,” says the Swede, who works in the catering industry and is passionate about sustainable living.

“On a boat you are always close to the ocean, and on the ocean you can go anywhere just by the help of the wind. You are free to move with the seasons and bring your home when you travel. It is like the whole world is your neighbour.”

Olivia Dellow's boat. Photo: Private

For Dellow, living on a boat is also an alternative to battling with Stockholm's incredibly competitive housing market, where the queue for apartments with rent caps is up to 20 years long in some parts of the city, while bidding wars and limited availability are also pricing many would-be owners out of the Swedish capital.

“Plenty of my friends and their families are searching for houses in Stockholm. Due to the housing situation they have been on waiting list for over ten years. The sea can offer a plausible solution,” she says.

However she freely accepts that there are also major challenges, from having to buy in your own drinking water to repairing and maintaining your boat and being at the whim of the elements.

“The bigger the boat you have, the more you have to know. If you’re not observant of which direction the wind is coming or how your boat is berthed your home could end up in a wreck. You also have to keep your boat from burning up. I had a fire in my boat the other day that could have ended up very darkly if I hadn’t acted fast.”

Jessica Lindoff, 31, who works as a marketing manager, has also been spending time on the water as a result of Stockholm's housing shortage.

“I sold my apartment in February and thought I was going to find a new one pretty fast. But with the market being how it is, I found myself without a new place,” explains Lindoff.

Usually a lover of creature comforts, she moved in with a close friend who already owned an officially registered house boat and said she was quickly inspired by the experience.

“People in the community were very open and welcoming,” she says, in a nod to Stockholmers' reputation for avoiding small talk.

“There was an easiness in approaching each other as everybody spends a lot of time outside on their decks.”

READ ALSO: How to navigate Stockholm's crazy rental market

Jessica Lindoff enjoying boat life. Photo: Private

Despite opting to return to dry land after finally securing a new apartment in the Stockholm suburbs in August, Lindoff says she's strongly in favour of authorities creating more mooring spots so people can live on sailing and house boats in the city.

“There should definitely be more. It's a great way to live and an exciting way to develop Stockholm.”

Lindoff's opinion is shared by Richard Bergström back at Pampas Marina, whose private company is trying to secure between 1500 and 2000 new spots for various types of liveaboard boats around the capital.

“The production of new aquavilla homes is now in full swing,” he says.

But while he is convinced that Swedish capital has plenty more appropriate spaces where house boats could dock, he is honest about the time frame for putting his goals into action.

“It takes approximately eight years of planning in order to create the right infrastructure,” he says, noting that there are strict rules about the kind of piers required, alongside plenty of other regulations.

A 2005 decision by the tax authority redefined houseboats that were permanently moored as buildings, meaning they were subject to strict planning laws. A 2012 private member’s bill in the Swedish parliament encouraged the government to cut red tape and encourage houseboats, but so far the law remains unreformed.

And many city officials remain cautious about any new harbour or house boats being seen as a long-term solution to the city's housing crisis.

Jonas Eriksson, a spokesperson for Ports of Stockholm (Stockholms Hamnar), tells The Local that there is simply “not enough space available” to create a sufficient number of water-based housing projects to tackle the capital's accommodation shortage.

“It’s better to build more apartments,” he says firmly.

But for the tens of thousands of Swedes – and foreigners – trying to secure an apartment in the city, jumping on board a boat is an option that could well attract growing attention as the housing crisis continues.

Reporting: Trini Testi and Maddy Savage

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