Finland Table of Contents

As part of its overall responsibility to supervise the nation's environment, the Ministry of Environment was charged with overseeing what kinds of buildings and housing Finns worked in and lived in, arranging remedies for existing deficiencies, and guaranteeing adequate conditions in the future. Two of the ministry's four departments, the Physical Planning and Building Department and the Housing Department, were created specifically for these tasks. In addition, the National Board of Housing, which had been created in 1966 to organize the state's administration of housing, was made subordinate to the ministry in 1986.

Efforts to improve the housing of workers began in the nineteenth century, as did arrangements for low-interest mortgages. The 1920s saw the passage of the Housing Corporation Act and the establishment of the Housing Mortgage Bank. It was only after World War II, however, that significant measures were undertaken to subsidize housing through what is known as Arava legislation. These laws were brought together in 1953 by the Housing Production Act, which became the basis of housing policy and which helped to foster the tremendous construction surge of the next two decades.

By the 1980s, it was estimated that about 75 percent of Finnish residential dwellings of all types had been constructed since World War II. For some types of dwellings the figure was even higher. For example, some 70 percent of apartments were built after 1960. Migration, whether voluntary or not, and an upsurge in population growth had made this construction necessary. Population movements during the economic boom caused the first half of the 1970s to be the period of peak construction, when as many as 70,000 units were built in a single year.

By the first half of the 1980s, about 48,000 units were built annually. In addition to a decline in building activity, the kinds of dwellings constructed changed. In the economic boom years, about two-thirds of new dwellings were apartments, and the remainder were free-standing houses or row houses. By 1980 the ratio was reversed. In addition, by the 1980s much construction work was for renovation, and government plans called for the number of buildings restored each year to climb from 15,000 in 1980 to 60,000 by the end of the 1990s.

The construction boom meant that Finns were housed better than before. The number of dwelling units increased from 1.2 million in 1960 to 1.8 million in 1980 and gave them more room. Finnish dwellings were still rather small, however. In the 1980s, their average size was sixty-nine square meters, nine square meters more than in 1970. Much poor standard housing had disappeared during the boom years. The new dwellings had modern conveniences; by 1980 nearly three-quarters of them--compared with only one-half a decade earlier--were fully equipped with hot water, indoor plumbing, central heating, and sewer connections. Although Finnish housing was still somewhat poorer than that of the other Nordic countries, it ranked well by world standards.

About 60 percent of Finns owned their dwellings, and Finns spent, on the average, about 18 percent of their income on housing. Government housing allowances helped people of low income to keep housing expenditures within 10 to 20 percent of this income. Government housing aid came in a number of forms, and it helped people in all income brackets. Housing allowances were paid to low-income groups and to pensioners living either in their own homes or in rental units. Low-interest loans were available to people earning modest incomes who desired to own their own homes. Better-off Finns benefited from tax relief if they had mortgages.

Not all government housing policies were so popular as subsidies, low-interest loans, and tax relief, for some had unfortunate results. The housing program's most serious failure was seen in the often sterile and boring apartment house complexes and even whole suburban developments and towns that were designed and built in the postwar period to meet pressing housing needs. Some planned towns were internationally famed for the beauty of their design. An example was Tapiola, located on the outskirts of Helsinki. Many others, however, provided an ugly and inhumane environment for those obliged to live in them. Often situated far from needed services and lacking softening amenities, the bleak dormitory villages were desolate shelter for newly uprooted migrants from the countryside, and they fostered antisocial behavior, family problems, and illnesses. In later decades, authorities applied resources to these ill-conceived residential areas with the hope of making them more hospitable.

Another problem, less serious, was a shortage of rental units. Some observers held that state rent-control policies had reduced the profits earned by landlords and hence had caused a scarcity of rental properties. The lack of available rental housing particularly affected young people, generally not yet able to purchase their own homes.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress