When the ‘refugee crisis’ is aggravating the existing ‘housing crisis’, how will all be housed? Continuing to look into how the current housing ‘crisis’ and the refugee ‘crisis’ in Sweden, in this blog, I reflect upon how standards are queried. I will briefly investigate the shifting slide between the humanitarian standards, the accepted (informal) standards and the Swedish governments standards in this time of ‘crises’.
When emergencies aggravate the existing housing situation, the tension between the standard and the need is strained. Policies and practices are tested, because challenges, even existing pre-crisis ones, are magnified and issues come to a head. The political will, if not there, is forced as decisions are needed fast.
The government and the users (in this case the newly arrived refugees) set the policies. Informal and formal policies are developed in response to the situation. The formal policies related to standard for example include adjustments to the national planning and building codes while the informal housing policies refer to people’s own housing practices. This can for example be the acceptance of crowded living conditions. These standards that are set in the communities and might not be in line with the government’s policies and therefore also referred to as illegal or irregular.
It is estimates until 2019 estimate that each year 160 000 asylum seekers will arrive in Sweden who need temporary housing solutions, and of which each year around 90 000 will be successful and then require permanent housing solutions.
In terms of housing in Malmö, it means that an estimated 4000 new housing units are needed every year. For the last 10 years Malmö’s population has increased with around 5000 inhabitants per year. New estimates for Malmö’s population were published earlier in December. According to new predictions, this will increase to around 8250 new inhabitants a year due to the acceptance of refugees. The 24 7000 asylum seekers have not been included yet, as it is unsure if they will remain in Malmö. Accordingly, Malmö will have a 357 000 inhabitants by 2019.
The fact that the increased numbers is due to refugees then this makes additional factor of housing more critical;
- The figures are irregular and unpredictable
- There are different types of housing needed (temporary and permanent)
The municipality is currently budgeting and strategizing to meet this increase. The debate is high on the agenda on all political levels and highly contested.But back to the technicalities: Housing requires joined up thinking of four dimensions; ‘production’, ‘allocation’, ‘standard’ and ‘affordability’. I would argue that standard (or norm/ quality) is often the first dimension to be adjusted in times of emergencies, as it is the easiest one to regulate.
Boverket, The Swedish National Board of Housing, Building and Planning, has upon the request of the government explored housing strategy of the newly arrived. (both temporary and permanent housing solutions). The recommendations have been delivered in the last three months in reports, most notably Boendesituationen för nyanlända (Nov 2015), and letters to various government departments.
To end my blog entry, I share and comment briefly on the three main recommendations:
- Make changes to the Planning and Building Code so that housing can be regulated differently during emergency times (published in a letter from the Boverket to Näringsdepartmentet on the 26th of Nov 2015.)
This would for the first time introduce exceptional codes procedures (humanitarian standards) and planning for emergency times. For example the tented transit camp for newly arrived took months to erect as the planning applications process took the time it usually takes, months.
- Build for a specific group (newly arrived, students, etc) as opposed to for all. Boverket suggests creating separate Planning and Building Codes for specific target groups – students, seniors with special needs and refugees (asylum seekers and refugees). (published in the report by Boverket for the Government of Sweden, published 3 Nov 2015 entitled Boendesituationen för nyanlända)
This is a big step in a country in which universality has stood as a central value in the housing policy. As I wrote in my previous blog, Sweden doesn’t have any social housing at all. If the recommendation is acted upon then this a big step away from Public Housing Policy in which universality – ie affordable good quality housing for all – as the main value in housing policy.
- Restrict the option of finding your own housing for asylum seekers (published in the report by Boverket for the Government of Sweden, published 3 Nov 2015 entitled Boendesituationen för nyanlända)
This would restrict the option of asylum seekers to find their own accommodation or in other words the formalisation of housing allocation, directly tackling informal – often illegal – housing practices which have been increasing in Sweden in recent years. What has been coined as ‘the trade in addresses and mattresses’.