Background – Sweden’s recipe for public housing

Many people lived in crowded and very poor housing in Sweden during the 1930s. Pressure grew for society to assume greater responsibility and a Public Housing Inquiry was appointed. The birth rate hit an all-time high in 1945 with the end of the war.

Construction of housing had been at a standstill for some time, and there was now an acute housing shortage. A decision on Government borrowing taken by the Riksdag (Swedish Parliament) provided opportunities for municipalities to build good housing for everyone through the public housing companies owned by each municipality.

The buildings erected were light and spacious, with playgrounds and green open spaces. These were followed by day nurseries, libraries and housing for older people, which were integrated into and created lively urban environments.

Sweden was unique within Europe, as the public housing we built not only included social housing for the less fortunate members of society, but also increased the quality of life for everyone. The Swedish public housing model was born.

Twenty years later it was time for the Government to intervene once again. Sweden was experiencing another acute shortage of housing and through Government funding just over a million homes were built across the country over a period of just ten years – primarily apartment blocks but also many areas of terraced housing. This effort, referred to as the ‘Million Homes Programme’, not only eased the housing situation but also improved the standard of housing.

In addition to providing high-quality buildings, the programme also introduced tenants the possibility of co-determination, offered leisure activities for children, created safe environments, provided assistance for jobs, combated homelessness, developed new technologies to save energy and also promoted integration. The public housing companies became the municipalities’ – and indeed Sweden’s – tool to overcome challenges extending well beyond the function of housing supply.