What is social housing?

In Sweden the concept “social housing” is not used. The corresponding sector is called “allmännyttig”, which literally means “public utility” or “for the benefit of everybody”. In an international context the concept “public housing” is adequate. This sector consists of rental dwellings, owned by municipal housing companies that are organized as joint-stock companies (limited companies). In most cases the local authorities holds all the shares. These housing companies have a general interest objective

– to promote the provision of housing in their municipality

– but operate on business-like principles.

Who provides social housing?

Municipal housing companies must work for the purpose of promoting public benefit and it must have a general interest objective by promoting the supply of housing in the municipality, not only housing for the most vulnerable but for all kinds of people.

How is social housing financed?

There are no general housing subsidies anymore. Investments in public housing must be financed by the income from the rents. Public housing companies have no special benefits or advantages compared to the private rental sector.

Who can access social housing?

To avoid stigmatisation of public housing estates or residential areas the sector is open to anybody. There are no income limits or the like. The purpose is to provide housing for all, also for the less advantaged. However in practise it is typically not rich people who live in the public housing sector. In comparison with other sectors and tenure forms, the residents in public housing are on average less well off. They have a lower income, show higher unemployment rates and receive more social benefits. They are also to a greater extent single persons or single parents and more often immigrants.


One of the main challenges today is how to meet demand for new housing in expanding regions, housing for the young “baby boomers” of the early 1990s, and the demands from the growing elderly population and from the immigrants. At the same time, it is increasingly urgent to cope with the need for renovation and energy measures in the estates from the 1960s and 1970s, including measures to increase accessibility for disabled persons Last but not least, a new Act on public municipal housing companies in force since January 2011 has brought about some changes in the sector. Last but not least, the Act states that public housing companies must now operate ac-cording to ‘business-like principles’, which means that there shall be no special advantages (no direct municipal support or particularly favourable loans are provided and in the case of municipal guarantees, those should be offered at market price) but the companies have to be run on their own merits, with the same required rate of return as comparable private housing companies. Thus the public housing companies should not operate on a non-profit basis, but apply correct pricing, including a certain profit margin – though they need not maximize profits. They also must offer tenants the opportunity of having a degree of influence.

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