Danish ‘ghetto plan’ revised to prevent unnecessary demolitions

A controversial plan for regeneration of underprivileged areas has been amended to prevent unnecessary demolition of some homes.

Danish 'ghetto plan' revised to prevent unnecessary demolitions
File photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix)

Several hundred homes looked set for demolition under the plan, which was presented by the government earlier this year.

Newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad reported on Sunday that the plan will force housing associations to tear down homes which have in recent years been renovated at the cost of millions of kroner.

A new agreement between the political parties behind the deal, dubbed the ‘Ghetto Plan’ by MPs and media in Denmark, could save some blocks otherwise subject to demolition, however.

The new agreement means that housing association sections of under 2,100 residents with crime levels under a set limit can be given dispensation from a requirement for a maximum of 40 percent of homes within the housing association section to be designated for social housing (almene familieboliger in Danish).

Municipalities or housing associations are faced with the necessity of demolishing housing of this type and rehousing residents if it is not economically viable to convert into other housing forms to meet requirements over composition.

But social housing in six areas encompassed by a revision to the ‘ghetto plan’ may be allowed to continue in their current structure, according to the revision.

The extent of dispensation is at the discretion of housing minister Ole Birk Olesen.

Merete Dea Larsen, housing spokesperson with the Danish People’s Party, which supported the original plan, said she stood by its intentions despite the complications related to its implementation.

“We are not avoiding dealing with this, because there are challenges in relation to crime and unemployment in the hard ghettos,” Larsen said.

“But we are introducing an extra dispensation option that attempts to take into account that some areas may be functioning well,” she continued.

Relatively high crime rates in areas covered by the plan would nevertheless result in authorities being unlikely “to avoid pulling housing down,” the spokesperson added.

Crime rates are in fact falling in the areas encompassed by the plan and were doing so prior to the announcement of the government programme, according to a report by newspaper Berlingske earlier this year.

READ ALSO: Crime rates falling in Denmark’s underprivileged areas

Social Democrat spokesperson for housing Kaare Dybvad said that the amendment prevents functional areas from being unintentionally affected by the ‘ghetto plan’.

“I can’t promise that housing won’t be demolished in these areas, because the municipality and housing association must make the final decision on this,” Dybvad, whose party also voted for the plan, said.

“But it is quite clear that there is an option to avoid (demolition) if that is desired,” he said.

A number of housing areas have already put together a plan for how to implement the programme, reducing the number of demolitions in these areas, he said.

READ ALSO: Denmark's 'ghetto plan' unlikely to solve problems faced by underprivileged areas: residents


Danish government reduces number of areas officially termed ‘ghetto’

The government’s list of areas it officially terms as ‘ghettos’ has been almost halved, from 28 to 15 areas, in an annual update of the list.

Danish government reduces number of areas officially termed 'ghetto'
Tåstrupgård in Høje-Taastrup is considered a 'ghetto' by the Danish government. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

The housing ministry published the latest version of the list, which is updated annually, on Tuesday.

Of the 13 areas removed from the up-to-date list, 3 are in Copenhagen. Others are located in Taastrup, Holbæk, Vejle, Kolding, Aarhus, Køge, Guldborgsund, Odense, Fredericia and Silkeborg. No new areas were added.

The 15 remaining ‘ghetto’ areas include 2 which have been on the list for 5 consecutive years, earning them the term ‘hard ghetto’. When an area is given this tag, authorities are obliged to create a redevelopment plan which must be signed off by the ministry.

Areas which previously qualified as ‘hard ghettos’ but later cease to fulfil the relevant criteria remain subject to the redevelopment plans, which in past cases have involved the rehousing of residents. A total of 17 areas in Denmark are currently encompassed by redevelopment requirements of this kind.

In a press statement, the Ministry for Housing and Transport said that the primary reasons for the reduction in ‘ghetto’ areas are decreases in unemployment and criminal convictions. Improvement in education levels amongst residents, and a drop-off in the proportion of minority ethnic residents also occurred in some areas, the ministry said.

“It’s positive that there are fewer areas on what the legislation calls the hard ghetto list. But the individual redevelopment plans continue to ensure we create mixed cities and don’t park the weakest citizens in one neighbourhood,” the housing minister, Kaare Dybvad Bek, said in the statement.

In order to be classed as a ‘ghetto’, a housing area must meet a set number of criteria. The criteria relate to factors including ethnic background, employment status and income.

Housing areas must have over 1,000 inhabitants, of which over 50 percent of residents have non-Western nationality or heritage, and fulfil two out of four criteria:

  • Over 40 percent of adults aged 18-64 not engaged in employment or education (average over two-year period)
  • Proportion of residents aged 18 or over convicted for criminal, weapons or narcotics crimes must not exceed three times national average (average over two-year period)
  • More than 60 percent of residents (aged 30-59) have basic school education or lower
  • Average pre-tax income for adults aged 18-64, not including unemployed, less than 55 percent of pre-tax income for administrative region.

People considered not of Danish heritage are categorised into two groups: ‘immigrants' and ‘descendants' of immigrants (‘efterkommere' in Danish).

A person is considered to have Danish heritage if she or he has at least one parent who is a Danish citizen and was born in Denmark. People defined as ‘immigrants' and ‘descendants' do not fulfil those criteria. The difference between the two is that an ‘immigrant' was born outside of Denmark, while a ‘descendant' was born in Denmark. 

The list is relevant because, under the 2018 ‘ghetto plan', areas on the list can be subjected to special treatment under the law, including stricter punishments for specified crimes, a requirement for small children to attend daycare and housing reforms which can force people to move.

It has been criticized in the past for stigmatising areas, thereby making it more difficult for them to improve socioeconomic conditions.

The government's use of the word ‘ghetto' for lawmaking purposes may feel jarring to those used to hearing the term in English. It is arguably less pejorative in Danish, although Dybvad Bek has previously said he'd prefer it not to be used.

The ‘ghetto list' was first introduced in 2010 under then-Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen's centre-right government, while a later coalition headed by Rasmussen introduced the ‘ghetto plan' legislation in 2018.

Both the 'ghetto' and 'hard ghetto' lists for 2020 can be viewed in the housing ministry's website.

READ ALSO: Denmark's 'ghetto plan' unlikely to solve problems faced by underprivileged areas: residents