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Sweden: Against market rents and social housing!

Seminar on the right to housing, European Social Forum

Presentation by Sara SVENSSON, Swedish association of tenants

Malmö, Sept. 19, 2008

There are three million tenants in Sweden. If things get worse for tenants, lots of people will be affected. This is why Hyresgästföreningen works to protect and improve our rights and the quality of our housing. We influence Sweden’s housing policy, including working to prevent the sale of municipal housing companies. These should be run in the interests of their tenants. We are also fuelling the debate on the lack of housing and high construction costs. It is possible to build reasonably priced rental accommodation! Besides influencing the public opinion we also have a lot of lawyers on our staff that helps individual households when they have trouble with their landlord.

We organize tenants in all of Sweden against - for example the right-wing government’s official report that states that market based rents shall be introduced on the Swedish housing market. In Sweden today we have over 3 000 local tenants associations and 535 000 households are members of Hyresgästföreningen. These local associations campaign against this proposal and I will for a moment describe what this official report states. The reason for me to do that is because of the tremendous impact this reports suggestions will have on Sweden’s 3 million tenants. In many ways it threatens the right to housing.

This report wants to do two big law changes on the Swedish housing market. One is to introduce rents based on the wishes of the market. And the other is to approach a kind of social housing in contrary to our model of public housing.

In Sweden we have a model of public housing in stead of social housing as in other European countries. This means that all people regardless of income can live in the houses that are owned by the municipal housing companies. Theses companies also have political guiding principles that states that they shall take social responsibilities and for example build mixed in different types of houses (terrace houses, apartment blocks and so on). These companies’ rents also constitute the limit (plus 5 %) that private companies are allowed to raise their rent with. This is a quite old system that works well and historically it has guarantied a descent living standard and rent for many working class people in Sweden. The official report from the government wants to change this and remove the municipal housing companies’ responsibility to take social consideration when they build new houses, wants to increase rents or build new play grounds for the children. The only thing that the companies´ are allowed to considerate are the “free” markets interests and to make as much profits as possible. A limit in income is also suggested to be introduced – that is social housing.

The other big change is the introduction of market based rents. The report states that the rents with this change will be able to rise with 5 % plus inflation (which for the moment is 4 percent in Sweden) per year! The argument that the right wing is using is that we have to reduce the demand on “popular” apartments and locations. But what it really means is that the rents can increase as much as 63 % in a period of 10 years. And this will in the long run mean that 14 000 (!) people that today live in fancier locations will have to move because there economy does not allow them to stay. This will in the next step mean that the segregation increases. And the question is – where shall we live? And what will the standard in the flats be when the municipal housing companies aren’t forced to keep a high standard of living? This change is the biggest in the Swedish model of housing in a very long time

To prevent this development we have mobilized our organization against this the last year and it will finally be decided in the spring of 2009.

For us it’s important to act nationally against this but it’s also obvious that the European Union and its member countries are aiming for a standardization of the housing markets al over Europe. That’s why I think these kinds of discussions are important to exchange experiences.

Thank you for listening!