Last week I visited my husband Akbar, who is working as Site Planner at the refugee reception centre on the Macedonian and Serbia border. His assignment is to help spatially organise the reception centre that receives thousands of people every day. Many are heading to Germany, Austria and Sweden.
Back in Sweden, and as I wrote in my previous blog , many here ask where will all the newly arrived live?
In 2014 through successful asylum application and family reunifications 48 000 new residencies were granted. This year the figure has increased from 81 000 in 2014 to a predicted 150 000 – 190 000 asylum applications. Not all will be granted protection, but the majority will.
Sweden’s successful housing programme cannot be repeated
Housing was ‘solved’ by the government’s Million Housing Progamme. From 1965 – 1974 the government produced more than 1 million housing units. It was strictly controlled by the national bank and paid for by government funds gained during Sweden’s record growth years a decade earlier. Architect played an important role in this large-scale process of social engineering; everyone deserved modernity!
In the end too many units were built, and on to top of this the demand decreased as social issues increased in the new housing complexes. It was these empty units that absorbed waves of previous immigrants; Chileans, ex-Yugoslavians and more recently iraqi’s, Eritreans, etc.
Although similar numbers of additional units are needed today and for the coming years, a repeat isn’t possible; simply because Sweden’s economy has been liberalised and is now fully integrated into the global economy.
Sweden doesn’t do social housing.
The Million Housing Programme was an assurance that everyone would have a modern home that they can afford. It wasn’t social housing in which people are categorised according to income and vulnerability; it was simply for all. Even today, Sweden continuous to cringe at the idea of social housing; systems that divide and go against the ‘equal opportunities for all.’
Most Swedes would however today agree that the Million Housing Programme neighbourhoods are stigmatised and that people living there are not given the same opportunities, for example when they apply for jobs ..
So, how will everyone be housed?
At the moment, the efforts are very much on ensuring no one ends up on the street. The short-term housing solutions in the form of collective centres, converted hotels, prisons, theme park chalets, care homes etc. Tented camps are also on their way. One recent way to house more people has been to to reduce the space per person from 5m2 to 3m2.
After years of near on stagnation, the construction of new apartment is on the up. 45 000 units are expected to be built this year but the actual units required is more than double each year for the next 10 years, the ‘experts’ say.
The housing shortage was already there, but asylum seekers are magnifying it. Until today, around 45 000 people received residency through asylum and family reunification in Sweden this year. About a 1/3 end up living with family or with other people they know. This often leads to over crowded conditions. But at this moment 10 000 people who have received asylum in Sweden cannot find a place to live. Some have been looking to move out of the collective centres for more than a year.
I scouted for the debate. It is largely and loudly waged by politicians, civil servants and their statistics which are all very transparently accessible at the Swedish Migration Board website.
Also the people / groups that don’t agree are also being heard. Until now 13 temporary housing complexes for the newly arrived have been set on fire.
The architects are remarkably quiet.
Raattama expressed his continuous disappointment with Swedish architects who operate according to commercial direction. He states that while the few that are working outside of the market forces are busy fretting about becoming more urban, or trendier still de-urbanisation and the shrinking towns …
But what makes Raattama really furious is how the architects in Sweden wait to be contracted. Only an assignment will motivate them to get activated and use their skills. There are not the activist architect firms here in Sweden as there are in other countries. He lists; Dogma / Italy, Agent of Change and MUF / both in the UK, Zizi and Yoyo / Estland and Helen&Hard / Norway.
Raattama wonders why architects in Sweden are not interested in being its society’s visionaries ..
If there any Swedish architects out there who are holding such discourse, then I would love to hear from you!
Looking at the statistics, it is exactly these shrinking towns, like Ljusnarsberg, Hultsfred, Norberg, that have decided to host the most refugees! Maybe those activist architects who Raatamma mentioned who are into shrinking towns could get into such a banal question of decent housing for all?