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|File translated by Michael C. Behrent – Assistant Professor – Department of History – Appalachian State University – Boone, NC 28608|
ELEMENTS OF CONTEXT
Denmark is a constitutional monarchy consisting of around 5.5 million inhabitants. It consists of a peninsula, Jutland, as well as some 400 islands, 82 of which are inhabited. Sjælland and Fionie (Fyn) are the largest. Fishing is an important sector of the Danish economy. It has a large merchant marine. The main industrial sectors are: the food industry, pharmaceuticals, machinery, metallurgy, electronics, transportation equipment, beer, paper, and wood-derived products. Its tourist industry, moreover, is far from negligible.
In terms of GDP per capita, Denmark is one of the richest countries in Europe, and even the world. Until recently, the country’s economy was essentially agricultural. Today, agriculture remains productive and is aimed primarily at the export market. Most of Denmark’s wealth at present, however, comes from the service sector, which employs nearly three-quarters of the population. Still, mechanical, textile, and naval industries continue to play a significant role. These activities are mostly concentrated in the largest cities, particularly in the capital’s labor pool.
The Danish model is characterized by robust social protection (to which the Danes are strongly attached despite significant fiscal pressures), flexible labor laws, and a mobile labor force. The system known as “flexisecurity” has allowed the country to reduce its unemployment rate over the last decade and has elicited considerable interest and some imitation among the countries of the European Union. See The European Union’s website.
The Danish population is remarkably linguistically homogeneous, with 92% of the population speaking Danish as its mother tongue. Like German, Danish is a Germanic language belonging to the Indo-European family of languages. See Université de Laval. http://www.axl.cefan.ulaval.ca/europe/danemark.htm
HISTORY OF CITIES – HERITAGE
Denmark’s traditional habitat is very old. Wooden houses and churches are a longstanding tradition.
Photo Source : http://www.domnik.net
RIGHT TO HOUSING
There is neither an article contained in the Danish Constitution nor any national law that grants Danish citizens a right to housing. This seems to reflect the Danes’ desire to preserve their constitution’s “liberal” character.
However, under paragraph 59 in the Danish Public Housing Act, local authorities have the right to allocate up to one in every four vacant dwellings in public housing to persons in need of housing (excluding those designated as youth residents or elderly housing). Each municipality assesses whether a person is eligible for allocation of a dwelling on an individual basis and in respect to general administrative law principles, such as equality and objectivity. A decision made by local authorities in relation to housing under paragraph 59 cannot be appealed by any other administrative authority. Paragraph 80 in the Danish Social Service Act also obliges local authorities to provide temporary shelter if a person or family is homeless.
Denmark has signed, but not yet ratified the Revised Charter and the Additional Protocol providing for a system of collective complaints.
(Source : FEANTSA, 2012) (1)
EVICTIONS FROM UNDERPRIVILEGED NEIGHBORHOODS
The Christiana Free State: an enormous squat in Copenhagen (the capital). In 1971, an abandoned military camp of 41 hectares located to the east of Christianshavn was forcibly seized by squatters, who proclaimed a “Christiana Free State” subject to its own laws. Many hippies quickly joined the project. Yielding to public pressure, the government resigned itself to letting the community pursue its “social experiment.” Even today, Christiana remains the subject of controversy (the sale of soft drugs, for instance, is allowed), but its residents continue to defend values based on self-management, ecology, and tolerance. In 2003, the community consisted of nearly 1000 inhabitants living on 34 hectares. It has its own currency and a wide variety of cultural and sporting activities, as well as a large area reserved for agriculture. To defend its existence, Christiana is in continuously in conflict with authorities. It survives because destroying Christiana would require re-housing nearly a thousand people. Moreover, several hundred inhabitants receive social assistance, which has been set at a particularly low rate for the community’s residents. If new housing had to be found for them, the cost of the aid owed to them would rise significantly. In 2011, after eight years of negotiations, residents were able to buy most of the real estate, thus averting the possibility of eviction.
News source : Article in the Courrier International
Additional source : Mathieu Lietaert http://rue89.nouvelobs.com/2007/05/19/christiania-demolition-d-une-utopie-a-copenhague
Illustrations of the Christiana community in Copenhagen
In Denmark, new needs in the realm of homelessness emerged in the wake of a number of economic and political developments, including the decline in unemployment, occasional shortfalls in public housing, and budget cuts for organizations dealing with alcoholism and drug addiction. The use of an expansive definition of homelessness has made it almost impossible to say with any certainty how many people are homeless in Denmark.
The latest legislative changes occurred in 1997, when the government initiated a social reform project that undertook to offer a serious solution to the problem of homelessness. Until 1995, anyone who lived in a homeless shelter was denied income allowances or pensions to which they would otherwise have been entitled. This changed, however, with the 1997 social reform legislation. Any homeless person in today’s society is entitled to income allowances or pensions in addition to a range of housing opportunities, which are received in exchange for rent. A homeless person may choose between a room in a residence home, a bed in a shelter, a communal room in a housing association, an independent apartment, etc.
The 1997 social reform introduced a number of changes—most of which are technical in nature—two of which merit special attention:
The first and most significant change is the elimination of the tutelage principle. This means that a homeless person is entitled to income allowances even if they live in a shelter, government-financed housing of any kind, or the street.
The second innovation was the requirement that beneficiaries be included in decision-making pertaining to the services to which they are entitled. Thus beneficiaries must be able to decide how they are to take advantage of the various forms of rehabilitation available.
The new legislation also allowed groups of beneficiaries to participate in committees to increase their engagement in determining how they will live and to learn how to lobby.
In this way, the 1997 social reform amounted to an effort to create a national organization for the homeless, in which each region would work together in financing and implementing housing policy. Since 2000, a comprehensive national plan for fighting homelessness has given local authorities the means to prevent or minimize the accumulation of rent arrears following a move. They are also required to provide, in exchange for payment, temporary housing for families that have lost their homes.
Source : FEANTSA article
SOME INTERESTING PRACTICES
Cohousing was born in Denmark. The first cohousing community was established in 1972 near Copenhagen for 27 families by an architect and psychologist. Its origins lay in a 1967 article by Bodil Graae entitled “Children Should Have One Hundred Parents.” Since then, the movement has expanded rapidly. Today, 7% of the Danish population lives in cohousing communities. Over time, the Danish experience has grown more sophisticated, as lessons have been learned from early mistakes.
Currently, homes are smaller in size than they were thirty years ago and common spaces are much larger. Indeed, members of these communities want to spend considerable time in these areas. Moreover, the new generation of cohousing residents is much more “green.” Munksoegaard, near Copenhagen, is probably the best example. A hundred families live together in homes in which respect for the environment is a top priority. Moreover, the five common rooms are self-built out of bundles of straw.
Sources: Ecolo Info and Mathieu Lietaert http://rue89.nouvelobs.com/2007/05/19/christiania-demolition-d-une-utopie-a-copenhague http://cphpost.dk/
COMMUNITY RADIO FOR THE HOMELESS IN COPENHAGEN
A community radio for the homeless was launched in 1997 by the social pedagogue Carsten M. Bachmann. At present, this station is located in Denmark’s main “Homeless House,” which is the driving force for organizing the homeless in Denmark. The station broadcasts for an hour each week, informs the press about homelessness issues, engages in political activity and lobbying on behalf of the homeless, and organizes a national homelessness day each October. Source: FEANSTA.
Social and economic aspects
According to CECODHAS, in 2011, 46% of households owned their own homes (compared to the European average of 65%). 20% rented on the private market; 19% were public housing renters; 7% lived in housing cooperatives; and 7% could not be identified.
Among West European and Scandinavian economies, Denmark was practically the only country to avoid damaging price increases on the housing market and to offer real (and not simply nominal) reductions in housing costs. The share of private renting units, which consist largely of old apartments, has remained relatively stable (26%) and the share of public housing increased marginally during the nineties.
The aging of the population and a slight reduction in tax benefits for proprietors has led, in Denmark, to a marginal decline in the share of home ownership, which fell from 52% to 51% between 1981 and 1991.
Source: European Parliament.
PROSPERITY AND THE AGING POPULATION
Since the mid-fifties, as Denmark’s economy has grown in prosperity, the Danish government has allocated a considerable amount of money to housing policy, often spending 2% of annual GDP on this sector. At the same time, the Danes are on average prepared to devote a significant share of their income (usually 30%) to housing. As a result, Denmark has both progressive housing policies and a high-quality housing stock. Even if problems persist, they are far less acute than those of the least privileged members of the European Union. Furthermore, Denmark’s is demographically quite “old” and social measures favoring the living conditions of solitary dwellers are particularly notable. In 1991, 15.6% of the population was 65 or older, 34% of households consisted of a single individual, and the average household size was 2.2 persons, one of the lowest in the European Union. Both past achievements and the current dynamic give Danish housing policy a distinctive character, focused on quality.
PUBLIC HOUSING IN DENMARK
Definition and situation in 2012
In Denmark, public housing (or, more precisely, not-for-profit housing) consists of a housing unit that can be rented at a price reflecting real costs. A specific characteristic of the Danish public housing model is the principle of tenants’ democracy, which is essentially a way to organize each housing division by giving the residents a central role in how they operate. Currently, not-for-profit housing amounts to 20% of the country’s total stock.
How does it work ?
Social housing has been provided since the turn of the 20th century by non for profit housing associations. There are about 700 housing associations, which own 8000 estates, also defined as ‘sections’. They are legally regulated by the state, but owned and organised collectively by the association members themselves.
By law, social housing must be rented at cost rents, which are based on historic costs. Rents are not reduced when mortgage loans are redeemed. Instead the proceeds go into the National Building Fund, established in 1966, which is used by not for profit housing associations for renovation work and most recently also to finance new construction.
Waiting lists are open to everyone from a minimum age of 15 years old. The majority of vacant units are assigned by the respective hous- ing associations on the basis of time on the waiting list and household size. Although there are no income ceilings for beneficiaries, there are limits for costs of construction (and therefore rents) and size of the dwellings. Furthermore, there are priority criteria for the allocation of dwellings, defined on the basis of local conditions.
Source : CECODHAS report 2012
HOUSING POLICY PRIORITIES
Over the course of the last decade, Danish politics has emphasized the importance of the market to housing, while also stressing that public housing is essential to responding to the demand that the market leaves unmet.
The Danish public sector consists of nearly 700 not-for-profit housing companies, split between rural and urban areas. The way investments are financed stands out compared to other EU countries: 91% consists of private indexed loans; 7% comes from municipalities; and 2% comes from tenants (which for low-income households may be financed by local authorities); for the last twenty years, 80% of housing subsidies come from the central government and 20% from city governments.
Individual and housing assistance is allocated to tenants in every kind of renting situation.
Local governments allocate capital, guarantees, and subsidies to all kinds of housing companies. They also approve rent scales, manage housing assistance, organize the creation and maintenance of projects, and play a key role in supervising and regulating associations. It is their statutory responsibility to ensure that all households are housed in an appropriate manner.
Over the course of the past twenty years, Danish housing policy has been characterized by stability. It slowly evolves more than it suddenly changes. Building on past achievements and improving connections between housing and other activities were the hallmarks of the 1990s. The main priorities have been:
to keep fiscal incentives for owners at levels lower than those reached in the second half of the 1980s;
to reduce (by 10,000 to 4,000 per year between 1990 and 1993) the quantity of new public housing units (as a result of declining need);
to increase local government supervision over levels and kinds of investment;
to double the size of budgets allocated to housing renovation (between 1990 and 1995) to 6.4 billion DKR a year and to expand program participation from 200 to 276 Danish municipalities;
to emphasize (after 1992) the revitalization of dilapidated public housing;
to emphasize, in the realm of finance and territorial management, connections between housing policy and social and environmental policy;
to continue to adapt and to improve the quality of housing for the elderly, the disabled, and youth;
to aggressively improve available information about housing markets and housing needs and conditions.
Source : “La politique du logement dans les états membres de l’union européenne.” Direction générale des études. W 14.
The Danish government has adopted a number of measures to promote urban renewal in large cities:
since 1993, long-term measures seek to promote the revitalization of old homes through urban renewal projects that have been put into place by the private sector with state help, in order to lower rising costs for tenants;
municipalities have preserved housing assistance for people living in private sector housing that benefits from subsidized improvements;
the ability of municipalities to act has been strengthened and special counselors have been made available to residents’ groups in underprivileged areas in order to promote urban revitalization;
investments in the housing sector have been closely tied to social projects (such as initiatives directed at integrating immigrants, young delinquents, and drug addicts) as well as to ecological strategies promoting mixed occupation, the bestowal of public services, and energy efficiency improvements (for example, the pilot projects of Kolding, Egebjerggard, and Aalborg);
The Danes’ emerging insight is that housing policy does not just build houses, but also communities and that improving the urban environment requires social cohesion in order to succeed and, when it succeeds, that in turn it promotes social cohesion.
HOUSING FOR THE MOST VULNERABLE POPULATIONS
Before the eighties, Denmark’s approach consists in putting vulnerable and older households in protected housing or subsidized retirement homes. This consideration shown to the elderly is also directed at youth and the disabled.
The current policy goal is to allow households to remain as long as possible in their own homes, by adapting them as need be and by offering home care and regular surveillance through alarm systems. The government promotes the design and construction of retirement homes combining private space and communal facilities. Innovation in design and construction results in fewer obstacles and the presence of elevators in these buildings.
The central government grants special subsidies for adaptations benefiting the elderly, whatever the kind of space occupation, and municipalities are allowed to allocate adapted and subsidized homes across the entire rental sector. The maximum rent paid by the elderly cannot exceed 15% of their income.
Denmark’s housing stock currently consists of 100,000 housing units adapted to underprivileged elderly people (2.5% of the total stock) and of a comparable number of units for young people (students or single). Households of the physically or mentally disabled also have access to adapted homes.
Since 1993, new communal cooperatives have been created for people over the age of 55, the disabled, and individuals suffering from senile dementia (500 units per year). There is also experimental housing for the homeless (200 per year).
The success of Danish policy is evident in its evolutionary conception of urban revitalization and in the use of adapted housing for the elderly and youth.
Source : “La politique du logement dans les états membres de l’union européenne.” Direction générale des études. W 14.
Cultural aspects – Religious – Symbolic
Denmark has become one of the world leaders in terms of wind energy and has initiated many experiments in urban ecology (such as eco-neighborhoods or high-quality environmental architecture) in pursuit of sustainable development. Organic farming is very advanced. A heavy tax on pesticides has significantly reduced their use by “traditional” agriculture.
The country remains afflicted by the fact that much of its territory is artificialized and by serious ecological problems in the Baltic (dead zones, heavy metals, radioactivity, and dead zones in the Skagerrak. This sea also harbors tens of thousands of tons of World War Two-era munitions, including a large number of chemicals that have recently begun to release their toxic content into the environment).
The sustainable city of Copenhagen has actively pursued a policy of eco-habitat. The city has managed to stabilize and is now seeking to reduce carbon emissions for homes, businesses, and industry. City plans include bioclimatic buildings (passive houses with positive energy) consuming very little energy, with clean and healthy materials, and emphasizing the need for communal urban heating. Copenhagen carefully uses on- and offshore wind energy (on land and sea), which accounts for 25% of its electricity needs. As an ecological city, Copenhagen currently comes in first place among European cities. Because of its many green spaces, it is a pleasant city to inhabit. Moreover, the city is a model in the realm of recycling household and industrial waste, as well as in the treatment of used water. Copenhagen is thus deeply engaged in thinking about urban ecology.
Bibliography & Sitography
MAJOR PROBLEMS BY CIVIL SOCIETY
According to FEANTSA Though Danish housing is abundant, diverse, and attractive, there remain specific problems relating to the quality of surroundings (in some of the older private rental areas as well as in sixties-era tower projects), availability, and accessibility. Moreover, social trends (the aging of the population, for instance, as well as the splitting up of households) and the economic situation (notably rising unemployment, which are near to European averages) have also created new problems. The main difficulties that Denmark currently faces include:
each night more than 2300 beds are occupied by homeless people across Denmark. According to FEANTSA, the country has approximately 5000 homeless people.
the socio-economic status of public housing tenants is in relative decline compared to the rest of society: beginning in the seventies, this sector included a disproportionate share of very young and very old households, as well as of the unemployed and single-parent families;
the growing concentration of underprivileged households in public housing projects dating from the sixties;
the existence of a stock of 250,00 dilapidated housing units (generally in the private rental sector in city centers) that are underequipped and occupied by poor tenants;
increased dependency of tenants on housing assistance: in the public housing sector, half of tenants receive assistance, which means, since rent is rising more rapidly than inflation, that they are paying one fourth of rents;
the aging of the population has led to an increase in demand and need for obstacle-free housing and the rising number of elderly people in poor heath requires security and alarm systems, as well as care-giving services.
CLAIMS MAJOR CIVIL SOCIETY
CIVIL SOCIETY ACTORS
SAND = Denmark’s national organization for the homeless. An organization for lobbying political leaders with concrete proposals. SAND website.
KIRKENS KORSHAER = A charitable organization founded by a priest in 1912. Currently, this association works essentially for the homeless and socially marginalized people with jobs. Besides offering shelters, it has created a network of charity (or second-hand) stores across the country. Website – Contact them.
THE INDEPEDNANT INSTITUTION OVERFØRSTEGÅRDEN = Created in 1991, this association offers assistance to homeless people suffering from alcoholism and mental illness. It tries to offer them holistic help (ensuring their rights are met; housing; social security, health; education; work; and leisure). Overførstegården website.