Housing in Crisis? – Research Insights on Social Mixing, Housing Affordability and Alternatives from an ISHF 2022 Seminar

How can cities provide affordable housing while preventing social segregation? What can we learn from alternative, grass-root housing projects and movements? A seminar “Housing: Crises and Alternatives” organized as a part of International Social Housing Festival 2022 provided versatile discussion on these topics.
Housing as a Persisting Problem

The hosts of the seminar, Postdoctoral researcher Mika Hyötyläinen (Uppsala University) and University researcher Özlem Celik (University of Helsinki), opened the event by suggesting that rather than understanding crises in housing as temporary anomalies of otherwise well-functioning housing system, it can be asked whether the rare occasions without evident crises are the real exception to the rule.  

“Housing is a permanent problem of the cities” stated also our first panelist of the day, Research Director Essi Eerola (Institute for Economic Research). 

Cities as Key Actors in Steering the Housing Development

Cities have a powerful role to influence the affordability of housing. Yet, as Doctoral Student Elina Sutela (University of Turku) found out in her study, the municipalities may lack the governing competencies or stable local policies to live up to that role.

Cities may also struggle with managing conflicting demands of different policy goals. Furthermore, it can turn out that the implemented policy measures do not have the desired effects.

For example, Senior Researcher Jarkko Rasinkangas (University of Turku) pointed out from research literature that social mixing, which is a prevalent policy instrument in urban planning, prevents accumulation of disadvantages within areas.

However, he continues, social mixing does not necessarily result in genuinely “mixed” neighborhoods in a sense that the interaction between different socio-economical groups would increase as intended.  

Similarly, Research Director Essi Eerola (Institute for Economic Research) argued that the current measures to direct public support to low-income households have not effectively succeeded in their aim of creating socially mixed neighborhoods in Helsinki area. 

"Forgotten" Approaches to Address Housing Policy

Senior Researcher Hanna Kettunen (Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare) emphasized that the impact of private rental sector and its regulation should not be overlooked when addressing the questions of affordable housing. 

Doctoral Student Jutta Juvenius (University of Helsinki) also reminded that the worth of a system or policy measure, such as social housing system, can be evaluated by many value orders, from which the concurrent public ethos of the market logic is only one.  

Bottom-up Alternatives to Influence Housing Affordability

The policymakers are not the only potential agents to act on housing affordability.  

In Spain, grass-root protest movements and housing activism to stand against the home evictions and detrimental treatment of tenants have also emerged as Professor Miguel A. Martinez (University of Uppsala) demonstrated in his presentation. 

In contrast, more bottom-up building models for arranging affordable housing are also taking place, such as a Swedish crowd-funded building model, ETC-Bygg, studied by Doctoral Student Anton Ösgard (University of Uppsala), and new building co-operatives in Finland researched by Doctoral Student Daisy Charlesworth (University of Lund). 

However exciting and citizen-led these new models might be, they can still face serious barriers from the side of municipalities concerning for example affordable land access as Charlesworth highlighted. 

Ösgard also pointed out from the Swedish case that these new models might also contain inherently exclusionary elements as well.

A Successful Event

To conclude, the seminar presented topical research insights concerning various aspects of affordable housing and provoked interesting discussions.  

The Urbaria Institute and the University of Helsinki thank all the speakers in the seminar, the seminar audience and Uppsala University for a successful event. 

The seminar sessions were recorded and can be downloaded from Think corner's web page for further interest.