#Mots-clés : Dernière mise à jour le 7 June 2019
File translated by Michael C. Behrent – Assistant Professor – Department of History – Appalachian State University – Boone, NC 28608



Sweden’s ancient history is violent and dramatic, studded with war and conquest. It was inhabited at the beginning of the Neolithic period. The modern country first emerged in the thirteenth century: Swedish kings built castles, created provincial administrations, enforced the law, founded the capital of Stockholm, and strengthened the country’s unity.

In the fourteenth century, commercial exchanges intensified, particularly with German cities. Over the next two centuries, until the mid-sixteenth century, the Hanseatic League dominated Swedish trade. The large scale of trade gave birth to many cities.

In the seventeenth century, Sweden was a major European power, dominating much of northern Europe. It had a parliamentary government and a powerful military. But military expenditures weakened the country, which consequently lost territory.

In the eighteenth century, the country was so impoverished by incessant war that peace became a condition of survival. This period promoted the emergence of new ideas, which gradually gave birth to the Swedish economic and cultural model.

In 1814, Sweden was united to Norway by the Treaty of Kiel. Since then, the country has lived in peace, which was one of the main factors in its development and prosperity. It was one of the few countries that was spared involved in both of the twentieth century’s world wars. In 1905, Norway and Sweden separated.


During the interwar period, Sweden underwent unprecedented growth, spurred notably by the Social-Liberal Party (Swedish-style socialism). After the war, Sweden acquired a reputation for its international peace-promoting activities. A constitution was ratified in 1975. Finally, in 1976, the liberal and conservative opposite returned to power, but its rule lasted only six years before the social-liberal once again achieved a majority in parliament.

Source: The Swedish Institute website


Currently, Sweden has a little more than 9.4 million inhabitants (source: Befolkningsstatistik. Statistiska centralbyrån).

More than a century ago, when it was still a poor agricultural country, Sweden was an emigrant nation. From the late nineteenth century to the thirties, no less than a million and half Swedes—a fourth of the population—emigrated, most to North America.

Sweden’s demographic profile has, however, evolved considerably since the sixties in the wake of major immigrations. Swedish demography has undergone a significant shift in the past fifty years as a result of the influx of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from all over the world. As a share of its population, Sweden has a very high percentage of inhabitants of foreign origin. Nearly a fifth of its nine million inhabitants were either born abroad or have two parents who were born abroad. The main immigrant groups come from other Nordic countries, former Yugoslavia, Iran, Iraq, and Africa. Many are refugees who arrived in the last twenty years. In little time, immigration has had brought spectacular change, making Sweden a multicultural and cosmopolitan nation.

Source: Sweden PDF

A majority of its population is “active” (i.e., working), with a particular wide distribution in the base. The age distribution will probably result in an imbalance between towards people (who are currently working) in future years.



Sweden is very scarcely inhabited (with 21 inhabitants per square kilometer). This population is far from being evenly distributed. Half of it is concentrated in 3% of the territory. More than one third lives in the three major cities: Stockholm, Göteborg, and Malmö.



From south to north, Sweden extends across a number of different climate zones (all of which are Polar). Temperatures can fall as low as -40°C and the country is plunged into darkness for six months a year. The key material is wood, specifically pine (93% of the wood used in Sweden is pine). This material has considerable thermal qualities and has been used throughout the country for generations.

Because of its harsh climate, Sweden has had to alter its traditional habitat in significant ways. To protect itself from extreme temperatures, housing must be extremely efficient and offer its occupants as much comfort as possible. Yet architectural diversity is less and less common. What one now finds in Sweden is a kind of home with which we are all familiar: the red Scandinavian home with white window linings. It consists of a structure made out of a mixture of wood and concrete, offering residents more comfort than older dwellings: concrete walls and ceilings, wooden exteriors coated in a mixture of oil and rock powder, which because the wood does not absorb it, allows the wood to breathe.

Here are a few traditional Swedish houses:

A southern Swedish house with a stone foundation. A southern Swedish farmhouse: stone chimney and vegetal roofing. A wooden peasant house on pillars to prevent it from being submerged by snow.

Source: 6climats6habitats


Stockholm offers an excellent example of Sweden’s longstanding tradition of urban planning. In addition to the fact that the capital has for more than three centuries run communal services charged with the upkeep of streets and public places, its city council has for over a century appointed an “urban planning commission” which manages and organizes the expansion of the urban fabric according to rules laid out in an orderly succession of urban plans.

To understand the Swedish approach to urban planning, it is important to bear in mind two major ideas:

  • FIRST, until 1850, private ownership of land did not exist in Sweden, at least in the current sense of the term, even if Sweden subsequently evolved in this respect. Moreover, beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, most towns began to purchase massive parcels of what was still farmland. Like the majority of Swedish cities, the municipality of Stockholm currently controls 70% of the city’s territory.
  • SECOND, the seventies saw a major reorganization of Swedish municipalities, reducing the total number of towns to 277. The latter have broad, decentralized powers and receive a significant share of citizens’ income taxes. They thus have considerable financial and territorial resources to pursue policies they see fit.

Like the two other major cities, Stockholm has managed to preserve the city’s conceptual as well as administrative unity because the government encourages the city to buy land non-aggressively from neighboring towns. Urban sprawl does indeed exist; but it is under control. Large cities expanded by creating, beginning in the 1950s, little clusters of new cities around major public transportation routes. These new cities were limited in size, with less than a few thousand inhabitants. This exemplary urban planning has been able to develop since 1947 due to the deep reservoirs of land owned by local government and to the role played by cooperatives in building housing and urban infrastructure.

Source: Guy Di Meo “Urbanisme et société en Suède : les citadins à la conquête du bien-être, Guy Di Meo”


The right to housing is both incorporated into the Swedish Constitution and established by regulation.

  • In Chapter 1, Article 2 (paragraph 2) of the Constitution, it is mentioned that it shall be incumbent upon the public administration to secure, inter alia, the right to housing. The state defines the broad principles and main priorities of housing policy, while municipalities are charged with providing flexibility depending on their own specificities.
  • Chapter 4, Article 1 (paragraph 1) of the Social Services Act (2001:453), any individual who is unable to provide for his needs or to obtain provision form them in any other way, he is entitled to assistance from the social welfare committee (which is part of the municipal administration) towards his livelihood and for his living in general. Moreover, according to Chapter 4, Article 1 of the same Act, individuals who have objections to a decision made by the social services concerning the Article, they can appeal the decision to the administrative courts (i.e. in case of a rejection to an application for rent support). This procedure is considered to be rather effective.

Sweden ratified the Revised European Social Charter Bold Texton 29/05/1998, accepting 83 of the Revised Charter’s 98 paragraphs, including the Article 31 on the right to housing. It ratified the Additional Protocol providing for a system of collective complaints on 29/05/1998. It has not yet made a declaration enabling national NGOs to submit complaints.

Source : FEANTSA, 2012


In Sweden, one can rent or own a house or dwelling. There are four different ways to acquire housing:

  1. The Rent code (Hyresrätt): the rent code defines the rights and obligations of proprietors and tenants.
  2. Cooperative apartments (Bostadsrätt): see the section on cooperative housing in Sweden.
  3. Co-owned apartments (Ägarlägenhet): co-ownership is new in Sweden and applies only to new buildings.
  4. Houses (Villa): individual houses or townhouses (radhus) that are fully owned.

Source: Article from Nord Quotidien.


Some Interesting Practices
  • Active participation of public housing tenants: Hyresgästföreningen, the Swedish tenants’ union, was created in 1923. It represents 90% of the Swedish rental stock in negotiations. Tenants unions are financed by their members, but also by contributions from lessors. Tenants who want to be elected must first undergo a training program. Communal housing companies, in addition to financing tenant unions, are also required to regularly conduct tenant satisfaction studies. Source: Downloadable CECODHAS PDF.
  • Telge Hovsjö: Local action that involves residents and young people. Hovsjö is a neighborhood in Södertälje, located about 30 km south of Stockholm. In this public housing project dating from the seventies, buildings were dilapidated, the population was poor or unemployed, and youth violence (car burnings, riots) was on the rise. A number of original solutions to these problems were found: the positive involvement of “big brothers” and “big sisters,” who served as role models their younger “siblings.” At the request of young people, a gymnasium was opened. The oldest amongst them participated in its construction, which was greatly appreciated and contributed significantly to declining agitation. The gym was managed primarily by the youth who live in the projects. During the summer, they were also able to participate in the renovation of the housing projects themselves. Source: CECODHAS PDF.

Social and economic aspects


Sweden has successfully deregulated a number of sectors, but major distortions continue to persist on the housing market, obstructing the relationship between supply and demand and denying many Swedes their preferred form of residency. Demand varies considerably from one region to another, as is clear from the significant rise in prices in large cities, but regulation is such that rent cannot reflect market values. The procedures for determining rent—in which private sector rents are based on rents negotiated and governed by costs practiced in the public sector—has led, in major cities, to significant differentials between the rents tenants are prepared to pay and those that are effectively in practice. Since 1996, housing costs rose around 8% annually through 2008!

Source: OECD statistics.


Housing construction has sharply increased, but as a share of GDP, it remains significantly lower than levels in other OECD countries. This is partly a result of the fact that previous investments were massively subsidized by the state. Rent control has also contributed to this situation, as rental construction is particularly low. However, the weak rate of construction can also be explained by the lack of competition in this sector, due to restrictive barriers and a powerful union. Consequently, building costs are higher than in most other European countries. Very strict urban planning policies in cities also play a role.

Source: OECD.


To understand the following figures, one must recall the four forms of acquiring property (discussed above): 41% of Swedes own their homes (compared to a European average in 2007 of 65%); 19% are tenants on the private market; 18% tenants on the public market; and 22% live in residents’ cooperatives. Source: 2012 CECODHAS Report.


Definition and situation in 2012

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.

Since the early nineties, there has been a clear trend towards reducing or even eliminating assistance and subsidies. Companies borrow their capital from financial markets at market prices and henceforth take responsibility for their own economic risks, which has weakened them. This is the spirit of the new “law on public housing companies” (2011), which must now operate on “commercial principles.”

How do is work ?

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.

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.

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 advantage. 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.

Sources: 2012 CECODHAS Report


In Sweden, 22% of the national stock consists of housing cooperatives (and even more in Stockholm). Historically, since the early twentieth century, this kind of housing was a concrete response to housing shortage and to real estate speculation. Its original purpose was to give everyone a chance to control the milieu in which they live, independent of income. At the time, one might say that they were tenant property companies.

After the Second World War (1945), individual housing assistance was established. Cooperative residents were also eligible. They thus received assistance directly from the state and anti-speculative mechanisms were put into place.

Currently, 75% of housing cooperatives are affiliated with one of the two founding federations; the remaining 25% are “independent” cooperatives subscribing to the philosophy of participatory housing and have been catalogued by the association Kollekivhus Nu (“Co-housing Now”). The state does not assist them directly, but these cooperative can help them to receive bank loans.

Characteristics of housing cooperatives:

  • On average, there are 80 units per cooperative.
  • The building and the land belong to the cooperative company; the residents own shares of the cooperatives, which give them a claim to ownership.
  • The residents are members of one of the two cooperative organizations (unless they belong to an “independent” cooperative).
  • They pay an annual fee to cover the costs of real estate loans and management costs.
  • Though the self-management model is the most common, some cooperatives hire personnel.

Source: Habicoop France


  • THE ELDERLY: Sweden contributes a greater share of its GDP to seniors than any other country in the world. It does so by encouraging them to live at home. Elderly people who are disabled can request a municipal subsidy for adapting their homes. See this example of a residency for seniors suffering from senile dementia: Vigs ÄngarDPH file.
  • THE HOMELESS: In 1999, the government appointed a parliamentary committee known as the Homeless Committee to devise, over a three year period, better ways of dealing with and preventing homelessness. In Sweden, the homeless do not benefit from a right to housing. Rather, municipalities are required to provide temporary shelter in emergency situations. However, the Homeless Committee recommended that to the right to subsistence, defined in §4 of the law on social services, be added a right to housing for those who are unable, by their own efforts, to obtain housing on the regular market (Source: FEANTSA) Around 34,000 individuals have, according to the definition of the National Health and Wellbeing Council, been identified as homeless or as excluded from the traditional housing market. This group includes people living in very different conditions and with very different needs. The stark increase in homelessness primarily concerns people who are living in long-term housing solutions, such as “training” apartments and apartments granted on the basis of a social contract. Homelessness and insecurity is currently a reality for a significant number of Swedish children. Source: chart by Social Styrelsen.
  • THE DISABLED: The primary goal of Sweden’s policy for the disabled has for years been to give people with functional incapacities the power and the means to manage their daily lives. To achieve this goal, the emphasis is now placed on democracy and human rights rather than on social protection. Municipalities are required to offer ten services to the disabled. Source: D. Noury, “La compensation du handicap en Suède.”

Cultural aspects – Religious – Symbolic

The Swedes have always attached particular importance to the integration of nature and culture: green spaces, games for children, cultural centers, artwork in public spaces, and so on. The Swedes choose to live in homes with wood frames designed for living in harmony with nature and for maximizing daylight (bay-windows, for instance, make it possible to observe the spectacle of nature).

The reindeer-herding Lapps still live in teepee-like homes. The United Nations has recognized the Sami (or Lapp) as an indigenous people, which give them the right to develop their artisanship, language, reindeer-herding practices, traditions, and identity. There are said to be approximately 20,000 Sami in Sweden.

Environmental aspects

Ecology as General Policy

Sweden has been a trailblazer in sustainability. Having determined as early as 1960 that a rapid destruction of natural resources was underway, it took the initiative of organizing the first United Nations conference on the environment, which was held in Stockholm in 1972. Since then, it has never ceased to work actively, at the international as well as national level, to protect the environment.

The broad goal of Swedish environmental policy is to bequeath to the next generation a society in which major environmental problems have been resolved. Sweden subscribes resolutely to urban ecology.

Swedish environmental policy is based on sixteen environmental quality objectives (EQO) that have been approved by the government and the Riksdag. Source: Swedish environmental objective portal.

Swedish Eco-Neighborhoods

  • Hammarby (a Stockholm neighborhood) = It was conceived consistent with ecological norms found in sustainable neighborhoods. Currently, it has 17,000 inhabitants. Authorities hope that this ecological neighborhood will be the home to 25,000 residents by 2017. Hammarby’s characteristics include: an emphasis on public transportation, a system of vehicle renting, functional diversity (schools, shops, offices, etc.), self-produced energy through solar panels and heat pumps, rain water collection, faucets equipped with flow restrictors, waste recycling with automated sorting and conversion for home heating, the selling of nothing but organic produce in shops, “biological corridors,” and so on.
Stockholm’s Hammarby Sjöstad Automated waste vacuum collection Swedish transport

Source: Swedish Institute for Sustainable Development.

  • Bo1 (Malmö) = “The city of tomorrow” is a new neighborhood in the western port of Malmö, consisting of residential buildings as well as offices, shops, and other services. The idea was to transform within twenty years this former industrial area into an area for learning about and living a sustainable lifestyle. Cranes and industrial machinery have given way to parks, swimming areas, schools, and housing. The goal is to make the neighborhood an international model of sustainable rehabilitation in a dense urban environment. This project was also conceived as part of Malmö’s own urban development strategy. The number of inhabitants is around a thousand.
Automated waste management Thermal solar panels Open-air water treatment plants

Photograph sources: City of Malmö.

  • Augustenborg (Malmö) = Ekostaden Augustenborg is the collective name of a program to make the neighborhood of Augustenborg a more socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable environment. Ekostaden Augustenborg was supported by the Local Government Investment Program, in addition to financing from the city of Malmö’s main local partners and the company MKB. 1,800 housing units have been rehabilitated.
Restitution of rain water to its natural milieu Solar panels and vegetal roofing Playful and aesthetic ecology
  • Spontaneous communities in Sweden: there are currently thirty-some known and recognized projects in Sweden. A list of current projects can be found here: Intentional Communities site.


Understenshöjden is an eco-village located in Björkhagen in Stockholm. The project was established as a residents’ cooperative through the HSB (the housing cooperative organization). The project was launched by a group that created the organization, founding it on ecological principles. Later, the organization received building land from the city.

Source: Understenshojden website.

Bibliography & Sitography


  • Major public sector deficits: The public sector budget deficit in Sweden is very significant. In 1994, it reached 10%, making it the largest deficit in the OECD with the exception of Greece. This figure is much greater than the maximum 3% threshold allowed according to the Maastricht Treaty’s economic convergence criteria. One consequence is the reduction of state housing assistance.
  • Vacant housing: Sweden went very suddenly from a housing shortage to a housing glut. This shift began in 1991. By early 1994, nearly 70% of towns declared they had a housing surplus. This had significant consequences for the housing market and the construction sector.
  • Housing shortages in major cities for foreigners: Housing shortages in major cities makes it difficult for foreigners to move there. The paradox is that it is precisely these cities that have work to offer them. There is a discrepancy between the housing supply and the job supply for foreigners.


BYGGNADS has defined seven major demands:

  • Build at least 40,000 new housing units each year. Over the course of the last decade, on average 25,000 new housing units were built each year.
  • Do something tangible about housing for young people. Today’s youth belong to the first generation to have more trouble finding housing than their parents. Investment in rental housing is necessary.
  • Establish a “R.O.T. program (tax credits for housing renovation), including in housing cooperatives, in order to prevent buildings from becoming slums.
  • Make homes more energy efficient in the course of renovation work.
  • Take additional measures to make houses and connected property accessible to the elderly and the disabled.
  • Pursue a policy of public housing. Everyone must have the right to his/her own house. This right is also a precondition to offering children a good environment in which they can be raised.
  • Establish a new ministry for community development. For too long, these questions were split between different political jurisdictions.


  • HYRESGÄSTFÖRENINGEN = The Swedish tenants’ union. They negotiate rent levels with proprietors, work on improving relations between proprietors and tenants, and lobby political leaders in order to improve the situation of tenants. Website – They can be contacted through their website.
  • HYRESGÄSTERNAS SPARKASSE BYGGNADSFÖRENING OCH – HSB = A company founded in 1923 promoting the development of residents’ cooperatives. These cooperatives involve significant participation on the part of residents, who have decision-making powers, including those relating to the establishment of housing savings. The organization has regional and national agencies. Website – They can be contacted through their website.
  • RIKSBYGGEN = A construction and management cooperatives whose members belong to the building industry union. They work with residents, commercial companies, and the state. They exist across the country. Website – They can be contacted through their website.
  • HOUSING DEVELOPMENT & MANAGMENT = A research and education institute relating to housing and urban development from an international perspective (connected to the University of Lund). Its goal is to increase knowledge about organizing and improving participatory processes leading to good housing from a sustainable perspective, particularly for low-income people. WebsiteEmail.
  • SWEDEN’S NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CITY MISSIONS = A charitable organization founded by a priest who believed that “missions to the city” were needed to grapple with the deep poverty found “on society’s margins” (1952). A “health-based” approach to urban social work guides their activities and determines the target groups: the homeless, drug and other kinds of addicts, and people suffering from mental illness. They offer nighttime shelters, care centers, social companies, etc. Information from FEANTSA’s websiteEmail.
  • KRIS = An organization of former prison inmates promoting their reintegration into society. Their activities include reintegration through work, health, housing, and so on. They defend the rights of former inmates, notably against discrimination. WebsiteContact them.
  • KOLLEKTIVHUS NU = An association promoting communal housing and alternative lifestyles. It supports existing communal dwellings as well as projects that are still underway. Currently, it has nine sub-groups supporting 41 projects. WebsiteContact them.
  • PENSIONÄRERNAS RIKSORGANISATION = An apolitical association dedicated to the wellbeing of Sweden’s elderly. Its goal is to tend to the interests of the elderly: health, housing, security, pensions, and so on. It has offices in most towns. WebsiteContact them.
  • INDEPENDENT LIVING INSTITUTE = A center for reflection managed and controlled by its users, specialized in freely chosen actions, self-determination, self-respect, and the dignity the disabled. Besides supplying information and training materials, it develops solutions for serious disabled people in Sweden and elsewhere in the world. WebsiteContact them.
  • FAKTUM = A homeless newspaper that also defends their rights. Distributed in Goteborg, it is sold by the homeless to passersby in order to inform them of the situation of the most vulnerable populations. WebsiteContact them.
  • BYGGNADS = An activist association in the construction sector. It adopts both a “micro” (the relationship between construction and each person’s daily life) and a “macro” perspective (the relationship between construction and life). WebsiteContact them.