One in every five dwellings in Denmark is social housing, accommodating 1m people in more than 8,500 estates, owned by 550 housing associations and managed by the tenants.
Anybody from the age of 15 years can apply for one, there is no income limit. Rents are kept low as there are caps on construction costs and the size of the dwellings is generally set at a modest 78 sq m.
The sector is regulated by the state, but self-funding and owned and organised collectively by the tenants who must vote and agree on its management.
Housing associations form a partnership with their local authority when building a new development. They borrow 88% of the construction costs from banks on normal mortgage terms. The local authority guarantees part of this and contributes 10% in an interest-free loan. The tenants contribute 2% in the form of deposits which they receive back when they leave, provided their dwelling is in reasonably good condition.
The local authority has the right to allocate a quarter of available dwellings to those on their housing list, but agreements can see up to 100% available to the municipal authorities. Tenants may receive housing allowances depending on their income.
The rents must cover the costs of repaying the loans and maintaining the building. When the mortgages are repaid the rent is not reduced but the money goes into the National Building Fund, which is used by the housing associations for renovation and new builds. A small amount stays in a local fund to cover small repairs. This fund is an independent institution with its own board and agrees on requests for money.
Every four years, the parliament agrees the level and areas of investments from the fund. Because of the economic crisis, they twice raised the limit to help the construction sector. The renovations increasing energy saving by up to 30% and making improvements for disabled and the elderly created around 50,000 jobs.
The social housing sector and the fund thus work as a public-private partnership and increase investment during an economic slow-down to create growth and jobs. Since the tenants are financing the fund through their rent these investments do not add to the state budget.
They are hoping for a similar extension for the coming four years but the government wants to halve it. “We do not know why. It does not make any sense”, said Natalia Rogaczenska, head of European affairs at the Danish Federation for Social Housing in Denmark.
As well as new-builds setting the standard in sustainable housing, they also try to allow for more customised homes. For instance in detached homes, families can put up their own internal walls and contribute to maintenance.
Renovations and improved energy consumption are usually carried out together to make energy savings compensate for the rent increase that accompanies such improvements.
“We have tenant democracy and they have a right to influence their own living conditions and everything comes down to a vote. If they say no to renovation, then it does not happen,” said Natalia.
A balanced mix of residents is a cornerstone of the Danish social housing model, Natalia says, and there are a whole range of ways to try to ensure this.
It is especially important with the large influx of migrants — Denmark says it has around 150 nationalities living in social housing.
Local authorities place people in the cheapest accommodation which means that many poor and unemployed end up in the same place. The housing associations have been responding in a number of ways, including by allowing Danish families jump the housing list if they take homes there, and through flexible rent systems that encourage employed people or those with a skill to move there to improve the mix.
The fund is also used to carry out social development work in areas laid down by the Parliament. Currently this includes children and youth, education and employment, health and tenant activities.
> Population: 5.6m
> Social housing of total housing stock: 19%
> Co-operatives: 7%
> Population at risk of poverty: 17%
> General government spending for housing and community amenities as % of GDP: 0.6%
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