How One Scandinavian City Is Creating Low-Cost Sustainable Housing for Its Young People

updated Jul 29, 2020
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Credit: Johan Fowelin

It was a rainy, cloud-smothering day in Stockholm when we arrived at the Snabba Hus Västberga project site. The bus dropped us off right outside the affordable apartment community, and as we walked toward the center of the complex, patches of green made up a public space area where I envisioned tenants hanging out in sunnier weather. The seven-story prefab buildings stood separate from each other harmoniously, and even as we shivered with umbrellas in hand, I felt the warmth I hoped these rental units brought to Sweden’s young population—all while catering to the country’s sustainable efforts.

I was a guest of the Swedish tourism board when I traveled to Stockholm last month, during which they brought us to Västberga to explore the city’s democratic architecture and the sustainable solution it offers to its young renters. Designed by Stockholm-based architect firm Andreas Martin-Löf Arkitekter, Västberga is an affordable housing project with roughly 400 people living in 280 apartment prefab capsules that are made at an offsite factory, then mounted in a concrete structure while keeping lighting conditions in mind to prevent shrinkage and moisture damage over time.

Credit: Apartment Therapy

It’s the architect firm’s second site of its kind that is expanding to a third and fourth by the end of this year, all of which aim to provide young locals with temporary affordable housing (rent is around 5,000 Swedish Krona a month, equivalent to 527 USD) while they search for a more permanent situation. As a young renter myself, I feel that the idea represents much more than physical place for people to sleep. It represents hope for the future of Stockholm’s housing market, which has been going through a crisis for the last few decades.

Stockholm has been dealing with a shortage dating back as early as the 1960s due to a massive migration to the suburbs, reported the New York Times. The director of the Stockholm Beauty Council Henrik Nerlund explained that while this exodus put Stockholm’s apartment building construction to a halt for some time, the deeper issue now lies with Sweden’s rent control laws.

Rents are kept below the market value, so many lease keepers refuse to give their spaces up, regardless of whether or not they are occupied by tenants. This has created a shortage of available apartment rentals, which shows through Stockholm’s waiting list of over 650,000 names. To put that in perspective, Stockholm has a population less than roughly one million, so more than half of its residents are waiting for an apartment. Translation: The crisis is real.  

Martin-Löf didn’t act alone in constructing these rather large affordable housing endeavors. He teamed up with Jagvillhabostad.nu, a youth organization that advocates for building more affordable homes. “The idea is to build temporary structures onsite for the time the land is not being used, and the buildings can stay up to 15 years on temporary building permits,” Martin-Löf told AT. “Later, they can be moved to new sites.”

Credit: Johan Fowelin
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Made of metal, insulation sandwich walls, and glass, these moveable units are meant for age 34 and under residents, staying true to serving the city’s young population who desperately need a place to live. Each apartment houses at least two people, complete with a sleeping area, kitchen, bathroom, and a balcony. Those interested in living in the units had to send in an application that got submitted into a lottery.

However, the 8,000 applicants they received for the 280 available apartments made it obvious to Martin-Löf that there needed to be more. This year, the architect firm is building two additional projects that totals to 380 new apartments in the city of Racksta. Other than small tweaks like bigger staircases and a redesigned laundryette, the current projects like Västberga seems to be a great example that they want to recreate.

“A key to success is to show through architecture that the project is taking its residents seriously,” Martin-Löf told AT. “By giving a lot of attention to detail, both on the outside but even more visible on the inside, I have tried to show my respect to those who live there. Snabba Hus should always be good, temporary, and affordable apartments, not only affordable apartments as we usually to know them.”

Not only does the Snabba Hus series serve as a step toward resolving the housing crisis occurring in Sweden, but also as an example of how we should be thinking about our own country’s young population. I for one can say that we should be doing that more often.