In capitalist societies around the world housing relations take up an essential role in reinforcing class inequalities and forms of domination. They function as instruments of keeping large parts of the society in a state of dependency by forcing them to spend a majority of their income on a place to live. This in turn makes them even more dependent on unequal and of exploitative working conditions. At the same time the housing market functions as a great redistribution mechanism by continuously recording price increase rates above the level of inflation. These profits only benefit houseowners who are obviously disproportionally situated in the already wealthy and privileged classes. This becomes even more striking if one looks at the source of this price increase which, at least for the dimension of land, is nearly entirely due to public investment.
Sweden is in no way an exception in this regard. Despite the often-stated narrative of an equal society in Sweden due to the alleged achievement of a social market economy, the country registers very high rates of wealth inequality, which are mainly driven by the housing market. A vast privatization followed by a shortage of affordable living and steep price increase have continuously worsen the situation over the last decades. Thereby also the intersection with other dimensions of inequality becomes apparent. Brett & O’Sullivan 2019 for example show the mutual reinforcing effect of parental and migration background which also underlines the significance of an intergenerational dimension which stabilizes and reinforces inequality over time.
However, despite the diligent effort of some neoliberal representatives of framing the situation as a contextual malfunction of the system, this is exactly what the system is designed for. It’s fundamental goal lies in the establishment of insurmountable power imbalance in order to keep vast parts of the society in state of exploitation. This kind of system has several devasting effects for the housing market. One side the concentration of people in the big metropoles in combination with their very limited choice significantly increase the rents pushing people into spatial and social isolation. On the other side it also becomes profitable for houseowners to leave their dwellings vacant as they already skim a large profit simply through the increase in property prices.
The answer to the problem can insofar not lay within the system but must step out of it and oppose it! We need to stop excepting a system that enables profit making on basic needs. We need to collectively engage in a struggle for affordable housing in solidarity with everyone who finds themselves in a daily struggle for a place to life.
The examples in Swedish history where people have collectively stood up and addressed this topic in a practical way are rare but they do exist! In 1977 the local housing authority in Stockholm was planning to tear down a big residential block in order build more luxurious and therefore more profitable residents. People actively opposed this by occupying the building. According to the activist this fight was about much more than the struggle over this particular location, they aimed to attract more public attention for the pressing societal issues.
Struggles such as the one in 1977 have reoccured frequently throughout modern swedish history, and with the current situation most of us find ourselves in, it is time for more such struggles to resurface!