Municipality and public housing company – the difference 

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Municipality and public housing company – the difference

A clarification of the differences between a municipality and a public housing company is important. It will provide an understanding of what the responsibilities are for each of the organizations. A municipality in Sweden is the provider of things such as schools, public transports, waste management, and housing. A municipality is responsible for planning for the cities and communities in their municipalities which shall lead to properties for businesses as well as housing for the municipalities residents (SKR, 2019). Municipalities in Sweden has the possibilities to form companies, to which they may delegate municipal affairs such as housing. A public housing company in Sweden can be an incorporated company or a foundation and is under the umbrella name, Allmännyttan (the public good) (SKR, 2020). A public housing company are regarding the law (2010:879) required to:
1. “in their operations mainly manage properties in which residential apartments are leased with rental right;
2. promote housing provision in the municipality or municipalities that own the company;
3. offers tenants the opportunity to influence the housing and influence in the company”. (2010:879).
So, as the public housing companies are incorporated companies of the municipalities, their most important task is to build and provide sustainable and affordable housing (Allmännyttan, 2020).

Selection of research topic

The selection of the research focus is the interest in studying how to create a sustainable future, and one crucial factor for the environment, the economy and for the social dimensions is the aspect of housing. Housing can be viewed as the hub for creating well-being and a higher quality of life. For creating a hub for sustainability, the environmental, economic and social factors are all important. There are many aspects of housing that can be researched on. This thesis will focus on how the county of Uppsala is working with sustainability regarding housing. The selection of Uppsala county as the center of research is due to previous knowledge about the county´s municipalities, and public housing companies are working with housing due to an internship at the County Administration (Länsstyrelsen) in Uppsala as well as a desire to learn how they work with sustainability regarding housing. Furthermore, the choice of Uppsala county is also due to convenience as the researcher lives in the county which contributed to meeting with the public housing officials. The fact that the county is also experiencing an increasing population growth is also is an attractive aspect of studying this geographic area.

Selection of research method

The research presented in this thesis is qualitative and descriptive. The research does not test any hypothesis. The research uses the method of semi-structured in-depth interviews with public housing officials from the municipalities and public housing companies in Uppsala county. They are the key persons dealing with the issues of sustainability regarding housing daily. By investigating public housing officials approach to the issues of sustainability and how they manage the issues opens up to an intriguing research.

Aim and research questions

This research aims research in what ways municipalities and public housing companies in Uppsala county are addressing sustainability. It also aims to describe how public housing officials in Uppsala county are managing the issues of sustainability.
The study attempts to answer the following research questions:
• In what ways are sustainability addressed by the municipalities and public housing companies in Uppsala county?
• How are the issues of sustainability managed by public housing officials in the municipalities and public housing companies in Uppsala county?


In order to provide information that is important for understanding the research topic, this chapter describes the Swedish government’s view on sustainability and Agenda 2030 and Sweden´s residential development policies from the perspective of it being a public good. It also describes the geographic focus of the study, namely the municipalities and public housing companies in Uppsala county.

The Swedish governments view on sustainability

One can briefly say that the concept of sustainability refers to managing and preserving something at a particular level as long as it is needed (Jabareen, 2008). If explaining the concept further, its exact meaning is contested and has received a wide range of definitions throughout the years. Due to the full range of definitions, the desire to create a definition of sustainability that would include measurable criteria is preferred (Jacobs 1999; Holland 1999). A standard definition would be favorable for the implementation and optimization of sustainability in all aspects (Holland, 1999). Agenda 2030 is currently the most coherent way of defining sustainability in political and operational terms. Agenda 2030 consists of 17 sustainable development goals, including 169 targets and indicators (UN, 2020). When the member countries adopted the Agenda 2030 in 2015, they determined their national targets on the fact that some targets are more applicable in some nations than others (Colglazier, 2015). The most famous definition of sustainability/sustainable development is from 1987, Our Common Future, by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) as a mission from the UN. The definition is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Our common future, as it dates back from 1987 has been, together with other definitions, targets of discussions of sustainability. Jacobs (1999) describes Our Common Future definition as vague, reasoning with “what is development, what are needs, what is the quality of life, and how can it be measured?”. The reasoning of Jacobs (1999) is still relevant when it comes to Agenda 2030, according to Colglazier (2015) a part of the targets are very general and that when countries set their national targets, they need to produce a detailed plan for succeeding in achieving Agenda 2030.
The Swedish government has been working for sustainability before the creation of Agenda 2030. Already in 2002, the Swedish government implemented a strategy for sustainability. The strategy aimed to be executed by the country´s regions and municipalities. When adopting Agenda 2030 into Swedish policies, there were already a lot of existing laws and policies that were in line with the agenda (Stadskontoret, 2019). Since 2015 the Swedish government has developed a detailed plan on how they want to succeed in their achievement of Agenda 2030. The goal of their plan of action is “Sweden will be a leader in the implementation of Agenda 2030, at home and globally”. Sweden wants to be leaders in implementing Agenda 2030 as well as a role model for other countries in implementing the environmental, economic and social dimensions of sustainability and human rights (Regeringskansliet, 2018).
A 2019 analysis by the City Office in Sweden about Sweden’s implementation of Agenda 2030 by regional offices and municipalities showed that the implementation has been inadequate (Stadskontoret, 2019). The Swedish government has a strong desire to achieve Agenda 2030, but the implementation of it in the everyday activities at the public organizations was not adequate (Stadskontoret, 2019). The Swedish model of society is that the regions and municipalities are responsible for achieving societal services, which also means adapting to Agenda 2030 and its achievement (Regeringskansliet, 2018). Working towards sustainability in policies is to include the environmental, economic and social dimensions of sustainability in strategies and processes of regions and municipalities. The inclusion of the dimensions is also required to take place in companies that are owned and administrated by municipalities, as public housing companies (Regeringskansliet, 2018).

Sweden’s residential development and the public good

As the study of this research focuses on housing in Uppsala county, Sweden, and specifically housing provided by the public housing companies, a presentation of the Swedish housing politics and its development is useful for understanding the research focus.
The Swedish politics on housing stands out compared to many other countries. The ownership of public housing in Sweden is by the municipalities. The municipalities then have a public housing company that is an incorporated company that is responsible for the housing in the municipality. This model of housing is referred to in Sweden as the Allmännytta, the public good. The public housing companies are required, as presented under 1.1 Municipality and public housing company – the difference, to manage properties which residential apartments leased with rental rights, promote housing provision and offer tenants influence in the specific housing as well as in the company (2010:879).
The Swedish housing market is an « integrated housing market » which means that the housing provided by the municipalities through the public housing companies are available for everyone to apply for; there are no distinct housing markets for households with lower incomes or socio-economic difficulties (Salonen, 2015). The integrated housing market has been a vital part of the politics regarding housing since the 1940s, the integrated market of housing aims to diminish segregation and aims to unite the different socio-economic classes (Bengtsson 2013; Bengtsson, 2015) as it is available for everyone to apply for. The housing market on rental housing, both private and public housing companies, sets their rent through collective bargaining which occurs between the owners of the renal tenures and with the national organization that speaks for the tenants, in Swedish called Hyresgästföreningen (Bengtsson, 2015).
For shaping a welfare state, which Sweden’s aims to have, housing has a vital role to play. It is a key for increasing health, well-being and shaping livability (Kemeny, 2001). In the early 20th century, Swedish politics started adding the concept of housing into politics. It was more of a crisis package and selective services that were the actions. The early 20th century until the middle was affected by two world wars which put pressure on the economy, there was also a significant migration of Swedes to America, which impacted the size of the population. With a recession in 1923, many people lost their homes to higher rents. During the crisis of recession, the national organization for tenants got organized, Hyresgästföreningen, that still has a vital role in modern society (Bengtsson, 2013). The role of housing came to be as Kemeny (2001) wrote: « an essential key in creating the welfare state ».
During the 1930s the Swedish government concluded that there was a need for politics regarding housing. Investigations of housing became a focus at regular times. At the beginning of the 1940s, housing as a public good got defined. The municipalities gained the control over housing and with incorporated companies of the public good it aimed to make sure that the current lack of housing would be solved. It required significant renovations on existing housing since a large share of the rental housing lacked owns bathrooms and kitchens, and these standards changes were not aimed to increase the rent (Bengtsson, 2013). Since the 1940s the Swedish public housing market has been aimed to secure housing for all Swedish residents. All Swedish residents can apply for housing by the public housing companies (Bengtsson, 2015).
The public housing market in Sweden goes by the phrase « housing as a social right ». There is a discussion about whether housing should be seen as a right or as a product. At the bottom line, housing is both a right and a product. Therefore, the discussion should address instead how much the state and its municipalities should provide products for its population because it is rare that the state provides products (Lind, 2015). Housing is also different from other forms of services provided by the state with taxations; for example, services such as healthcare and education are tax-related services used by the whole population (Kemeny, 2001). Kemeny (2001) wrote, « […] housing has been directly provided by central or local government, it has almost always been provided for a minority (generally less than half) of the population, and even then at a price charged to consumers that covers a much higher proportion of costs than is the case in education and healthcare ». Nonetheless, the housing provided by the public housing companies shall have the variation of rents that secure that all residents with shifting socio-economic possibilities can find housing in the public good (Salonen, 2015).
Since the formulation of Allmännyttan in Swedish housing politics back in the 1940s, the directives for managing housing have changed. In 2011, a new law (2010:879) came into effect. The law meant that the public housing companies would no longer act just in the interest of society. They would now also act according to business principles (Salonen, 2015). The new law meant that the public housing companies were going to: « mainly manage properties in which the apartments are leased with tenancy rights, promote the housing supply in the municipality or the municipalities that are the owners of the company and offer tenants the opportunity to influence the company » (Bengtsson, 2015, p.38). The public housing companies have the requirement to encourage integration and social inclusion and equity. With a well-functioning social responsibility, the status and market of the company can increase (Salonen 2015; Windell 2015).

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Municipalities and public housing companies in Uppsala county

Image 1, a map of Sweden, shows the position of Uppsala county, where the thesis research took place.
Image 1 – Map of Sweden, showing the position of Uppsala County
Source: SCB, 2020
The geographic and administrative area in which this study was carried out in is Uppsala county. It is one of 21 counties in Sweden, but it is not the largest one (see image 1). Uppsala county has a large population, nonetheless. The county of Uppsala is subdivided into eight municipalities; Enköping, Heby, Håbo, Knivsta, Tierp, Uppsala, Älvkarleby and Östhammar, outlined on the map of the county of Uppsala (Image 2).
Image 2 – map of the municipalities in Uppsala county.
Source: Regionfakta, 2019.
Since the turn of the century, Uppsala county has been growing. The size of the population has since then increased by 28 per cent. The total number of inhabitants in the county today is 376.354. The city of Uppsala, in Uppsala municipality, is the fourth largest city in Sweden, is an essential component in regional development as it forms an attractive regional core with a larger labor market, university, social functions, shops and culture. The county also lies close to the capital region of Stockholm, which is beneficial for a larger labor market. The county’s connection to the capital region is increasing in terms of an enlargement of the current infrastructure. The national infrastructure plan for 2018-2029 will not only favor the transport of goods and people, but it also has requirements on increasing the number of housing in the county. In two of the county’s municipalities, Knivsta and Uppsala, the infrastructure investment requires them to increase their housing stock with 15.000. respective 33.000 new tenures (Länsstyrelsen Uppsala län, 2019). The requirements of increasing the housing stock in two of the eight municipalities in the county put pressure on the municipalities and public housing companies to plan and execute construction that is sustainable and that the housing shall be safe and affordable. Uppsala municipality is the fastest-growing municipality in Sweden and builds most housing per capita in Sweden. To exemplify the planning and construction of housing in Uppsala municipality, the new city district, Södra staden, is a good example. Södra Straden will by 2050 provide 20 000 new housing, 10 000 new places of possible employments and be the home to around 60 000 residents and be self-providing (Uppsala, 2020).
An urban area, as the city of Uppsala, is a center for a larger labor market, services as health institutions, education, and culture are of relevance as it increases an area’s livability (Boone & Fragkias 2013; Robert & Kanaley 2006). As the population is growing in the county of Uppsala, as does the demand for housing as the two factors go hand in hand (Liu et al., 2003). The municipalities and public housing companies in Uppsala county go by the phrase « housing as a social right » in line with the Swedish housing policy (Bengtsson, 2015). As the Swedish government is implementing Agenda 2030, the mission of achieving the agenda goes down in the structures of governmental responsibilities. In 2020 the Swedish government has stated and created a new plan of action to scale up the work towards achieving the SDGs by 2030 (Regeringskansliet, 2018). The related Plan of Action for 2018-2020 by the Swedish government explains and exemplifies what measures need to be achieved. Point 4.2 deals with Sustainable Communities. It states the importance of improving current cities and communities to make them more sustainable and inclusive, all in line with the Sustainable Development Goal 11, sustainable cities and communities, in Agenda 2030 (Regeringskansliet, 2018). When it comes to, energy consumption and efficiency, housing stands for a large share which makes the choices concerning energy and environmental sustainability current topics of municipalities and public housing companies (Wahlström et al., 2016). The choices of energy and choices favorable for environmental sustainability will most certainly affect the economic sustainability for the municipalities and public housing companies in the long perspective (van den Dobbelsteen & de Wilde, 2004).
Each of the municipalities in the county of Uppsala, Enköping, Heby, Håbo, Knivsta, Tierp, Uppsala, Älvkarleby and Östhammar, have a public housing company. In the yearly report of 2019 to the Administrator Board of Uppsala county, all the public housing companies have reported a shortage of housing. There is a more considerable demand for housing than they can supply (Länsstyrelsen Uppsala län, 2019). When there is a shortage of housing, there is a higher risk for crowded housing. Crowded housing is when several people, more people than what the housing is planned for, live together. It can have a significant impact on people’s health, and it can harm education as there is no space for studying (Dasgupta et al., 2014). In each of the municipalities, there is a central urban area which is the hub for services such as housing, shops, education, employment (Länsstyrelsen Uppsala län 2019; Boone & Fragkias 2013). The municipalities and public housing companies have the legal requirement to provide housing for everyone, and to do so, the municipalities provide a plan for housing where they introduce and explain their strategies for succeeding in the housing politics. It is vital that not just urban areas are of focus on the strategies for creating a well-functioning and sustainable housing strategy. The rural areas need to be accounted for as well (Ullstad, 2008).
The municipalities and public housing companies in Uppsala county conduct extensive work with planning for housing as well as constructing housing; however, with the increasing population, they are facing the issues of supply and demand. As it is a high demand for housing, it is interesting how it plays a role in when it comes to planning for sustainability when increasing the stock of housing. The high demand could be a factor of not favoring sustainability when housing needs to be constructed at a fast pace. However, looking at the example of Södra Staden in Uppsala municipality that aims to be self-providing through the lens of sustainability, it shows that sustainability is an important aspect. Furthermore, the Plan of Action for 2018-2020 by the Swedish government, it also an indicator of what the municipalities need to achieve in regards to Agenda 2030, and SDG 11 that focus on sustainable cities and communities with housing as an essential pillar.

Table of contents :

1. Introduction 
1.1 Municipality and public housing company – the difference
1.2 Selection of research topic
1.3 Selection of research method
2. Aim and research question 
3. Background 
3.1 The Swedish governments view on sustainability
3.2 Sweden’s residential development and the public good
3.3 Municipalities and public housing companies in Uppsala county
4. Literature review 
4.1 Sustainability and housing
4.2 The three dimensions of sustainability regarding housing
4.2.1 Environmental sustainability regarding housing
4.2.2 Economic sustainability regarding housing
4.2.3 Social sustainability regarding housing
4.3 Jabareen´s Conceptual Framework for Sustainable Development
4.4 Raworth´s Model for a Safe and Just Space for Humanity
5. Conceptual framework for this study 
6. Research methodology 
6.1 Research approach
6.2 Targeted selection
6.3 Semi-structured interviews
6.3.1 Face-to-face interviews
6.3.2 Telephone interview
6.3.3 Data gathering
6.4 Ethical considerations
6.5 Objectivity
6.6 Method of analysis
7. Results 
7.1 Environmental sustainability
7.2 Economic Sustainability
7.3 Social sustainability
7.4 Trade-offs
8. Analysis 
9. Discussion 
10. Concluding remarks 
10.1 Addressing the aim and research questions
10.2 Research contribution
10.3 Limitations
10.4 Future research
Annex A
Formal letter to interviewees
English version
Swedish version
Annex B
Interview questionnaire
English version
Swedish version
Annex C
List of participating actors and organizations


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