More people could benefit from public housing by reforming the housing policy

Many households are presently excluded from the Swedish housing market, which, according to housing scholar Martin Grander in his SNS report “Allmännyttan och jämlikheten” (“Public Housing and Equality”), is characterised by increasing inequality. The solution, however, is not found in building specific social housing. Rather, the universal housing policy needs to be reformed. Among other things, Grander suggests a more refined housing allowance, governmental rent guarantees and changes in the system used for allocating rental apartments.

The Swedish housing market is characterised by a shortage of housing as well as increased inequality. At the same time, financial resources and social networks have become more and more important. The unequal housing supply therefore risks reinforcing unequal living conditions. A characteristic feature of the Swedish housing policy ever since 1945 is that it has been universal in nature, thus aimed at everyone and not at specific groups. Municipal housing companies (allmännyttan) have served as a cornerstone of the universal housing policy with its motto “good housing for all”. Today, however, municipal housing companies vary significantly across Sweden. In some municipalities, they operate in line with the intention of the housing policy, while in others they primarily offer housing for low-income households. And in some municipalities, furthermore, there is no longer any public housing or low-income households are excluded from the municipal companies as a result of high-income requirements.

“The universal housing policy needs to be restored and updated in relation to our current society. The key here is not to subsidise the construction of new housing, but the individual”, says Martin Grander, Ph.D. and researcher at the Department of Urban Studies, Malmö University.

Martin Grander proposes the following changes in the housing policy:

  • upgrade the housing allowance to enable greater precision when reaching out to the groups in need of housing
  • develop the municipal and/or the regional responsibility regarding the housing supply
  • introduce a model for governmental rent guarantees
  • reform the allocation systems by prioritising and instituting alternatives to time in municipal queues

“By means of these necessary selective elements, the universal housing policy and the municipal housing companies may function as once intended. Building new social housing for people with very low incomes, however, would be the wrong move here. There is a large stock of affordable housing that needs to be better utilised and made available to people with great needs and limited ability to pay”, says Martin Grander.

The report analyses the development of municipal housing companies and housing supply from the 1940s up until today. The analysis is based on surveys and extensive statistical data, largely produced specifically for the report. The housing supply and municipal housing companies are studied and compared in the cities of Malmö, Norrköping, Landskrona and Gothenburg in order to identify local differences.

The report is part of SNS’s research project Sustainable Urban and Rural Planning.