I’m currently back in Malmö, Sweden where I’m continuing research on several topics, including housing innovations in the non-profit sector. I’ve been reading about the different trajectories of housing in Sweden, Finland, and Norway through researchers at Malmö University and their colleagues in the other two countries. Many thanks to Karin Grundström, Jennie Gustafson, and Martin Grander for their research insights, which I summarize here.
European forms of tenure that are slightly different from what we see in Canada, both historically and in the contemporary sense. For example, co-operative housing organizations in Canada are mostly non-profit organizations that own buildings, and the residents in co-ops are mostly tenants with the right of occupancy. As members, they participate in the daily decision-making around the buildings, including maintenance, filling vacant units, and developing internal policies for the organization. The co-op movement in Canada is strongly linked to labour movements, and many members do works for unions, political parties and environmental non-profits. In Sweden and Norway, co-operative housing organizations (bostadsrättsförening in Sweden), own the buildings, but the shares in the co-operative are bought by tenant-owners, who have not only the right to occupy the units but also to transfer that right to someone else. In Swede, the number of shares also varies by the size of the unit–quite a contrast from Canadian co-operatives which operate on the principle “one member, one vote.” The Swedish and Norwegian co-operative forms are essentially a type of individual ownership, while the Canadian form embodies collective ownership. This has led to predictable results.
In both Sweden and Norway, the transfer rates have now been deregulated to the point where there is essentially no price difference between co-operative housing apartments and private rental apartments; price controls were abolished in 1968 in Sweden and in the 1980s in Norway. Swedish municipal housing companies, which were created post-WWII to provide rental housing for low-income people and others who could not afford private rental units, have also succumbed to financialization, with many selling their units to private rental companies who immediately raised rents. Even in Malmö, where the municipal housing company has resisted selling units, there is not enough affordable housing for people, and many are finding themselves in precarious housing situations with second-, third-, or fourth-hand rental contracts or couch surfing. Swedish co-housing (kollektivhus) has also become less focused on communal living and working together to perform services needed in the community to jet-setting in and out, with services paid for as a luxury hotel accommodation. A similar trajectory occurred in Denmark. In all three cases, there was no real competition for the multi-unit co-operative tenure type until the 1950s; owner-occupied flats were not legalized until 1983 in Norway and 2009 in Sweden. When multi-unit rental buildings began to be built in the 1950s with the intervention of the State, they were intended for lower-income households, as co-ops captured anyone with sufficient capital in urban areas. In all three countries, any concept of the “collective” has now been abandoned in favour of individual profit and wealth accumulation.
The Finnish story is only slightly different, with a form called housing company owner-occupation (asunto-osakeyhtiö) where the housing company is a non-profit but shares are owned and transferred by the residents–who may or may not reside in the unit. Similar to the other Scandinavian countries, multi-unit rental buildings only started to be built en masse in the 1950s with State support. While in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, co-operative tenant-ownership had its origins in the housing crisis of the late 1800s and early 1900s and had ties to labour movements, in Finland workers took a distinctly different path from the bourgeoisie in starting their own housing associations. The associations to labour movements persisted in Sweden more than in the other countries, while in Finland there was never a goal to provide housing for all classes.
These different origins and paths have led to different tenure expressions, but all have succumbed to the forces of capitalism and financialization, which brings their “collective” nature into question. Canadian co-ops have similar origins, but as self-regulating non-profits the vast majority have decided to keep their collective principles, resulting in a unique tenure expression.