The classic image of Sweden may still be the red cottage with its white gables, perched by a lake somewhere isolated, way out in the countryside. And even though Sweden is sparsely populated, that image is changing - and quickly... People are moving to the cities like we've never seen before and its effects are being felt across the entire country. In fact, Sweden is urbanizing faster than any other country in Europe and Stockholm is the quickest growing capital in Europe.
This development places demands on political reforms of the housing market, especially as the country begins to struggle with the lack of housing, which affects more and more people. We need a national strategy for our growing cities.
Sweden has built far too few houses over past 20 years. Figures from the Swedish National Board of Housing, Building and Planning (Boverket) now show a housing deficit in 135 of 290 municipalities. When we asked the Parliamentary Research Service (Riksdagens Utredningstjänst - RUT) to analyze the population prognosis in the country's biggest municipalities, we found that urbanization is not unique to Stockholm, it affects urban centres across Sweden.
Urbanization is moving so fast that in just 15 years, two thirds of Sweden's population will be living in a major city or a nearby suburb. And even though Stockholm, Gothenburg, and the Öresund region are usually in the spotlight when we in Sweden discuss this topic, we're also going to see the same pattern in cities like Helsingborg, Örebro and Umeå.
We think, therefore, that it's time to take a holistic approach to these questions and we've launched a reform agenda for the up coming years.
A policy of full employment and a cohesive society requires a housing market that functions. People should have the possibility to move where there are jobs, where there's the possibility of supporting themselves and their families, and where the risks of social exclusion and unemployment are low.
If we're going to succeed, we need a new approach to both urban and residential construction. We need to rewrite regulations and reform taxes to ensure that more people want to be part of building the future's cities.
We have identified three main features that such a future strategy must contain:
Firstly, let the city be developed. If we're going to build dense and attractive city environments, the regulatory framework must be updated. It's time to take a new look at the regulations currently in place - from national interests to noise regulations - against the need for new housing, and it's also time to try new and simplified rules for implementing these plans.
Secondly, let's make sure the builders face less hassle. It is not acceptable that it takes so much longer to build in Sweden than it does in other comparable countries. We want, therefore, to remove some of the municipal requirements on building firms that currently make new houses so expensive.
Thirdly, reduce costs for a better housing market. Our focus is to lower overall taxes on living and building. We want to have a discussion about how taxation and rent levels should be set to contribute to generating more homes.
A number of government inquiries have been appointed to investigate possible reforms. They are making their way into bills that will be presented to parliament. We consider them to be concrete suggestions, and want them to form the national reform strategy needed to answer the challenges posed by rapid urbanization.
Oskar Öholm and Henrik von Sydow are among the Moderate Party MPs on the parliamentary civil and tax committees. A modified version of their housing strategy plans was first published in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.