Why hundreds of families are to be moved out of Aarhus suburb

Hundreds of families in the Gellerup and Toveshøj areas near Aarhus must move during the next few years, with their homes to be slated for demolition.

Why hundreds of families are to be moved out of Aarhus suburb
Gellerup in Aarhus. Photo: Axel Schütt / Midtjyske Medier / Ritzau Scanpix

Aarhus Municipality and Brabrand Boligforening, the administrator of the subsidized housing, reached an agreement on Monday over development of the area, the municipality announced.

“It is clear that this will be a major intervention in people’s everyday lives. Affecting their housing situation is something which must be done with great care,” Aarhus Lord Mayor Jacob Bundsgaard told Ritzau.

“That’s why we have ensured that all those affected will be given suitable housing which meets their needs,” Bundsgaard added.

Residents will be informed on Tuesday evening whether their homes are the ones to be demolished, and whether they are to be permanently relocated, Ritzau reports.

The agreement between the municipality and housing association is part of required compliance with the so-called ‘ghetto plan’, a legislative package passed by parliament last year.

In accordance with the new legislation, the proportion of subsidized family homes in specified areas termed ‘ghettos’ by the government must be no more than 40 percent by 2030.


Bundsgaard’s party, the Social Democrats, voted in favour of the bill which provides for the plan.

“We would have acted [to redevelop socially underprivileged housing areas] in any case. But it is clear that this very strong demand made by a broad majority in parliament has ensured this has fallen into place and we can move on with the next stage,” the mayor said.

Critics of the plan to develop marginalized housing areas say that tearing down homes will only serve to move social challenges from one place to another.

“How do you provide a helping hand by either selling or demolishing housing? There are people in this country who can’t just go out and buy themselves an apartment,” Pernille Skipper, lead political spokesperson with the leftwing Red-Green Alliance party, said when the plan was passed by parliament in November.

People living in areas defined as ‘ghettos’ last year told The Local that they felt their views on the issue were being overlooked, and that their local areas did not deserve the stigmatising label.

READ ALSO: 'Ghetto plan' unlikely to solve problems faced by underprivileged areas: residents

A total of 600 homes – 400 in Gellerup and 200 in Toveshøj – will be torn down, with new builds providing for 9,000 people to live in the area by 2030, an increase in relation to the current 5,000 residents.

Bundsgaard said the aim of the redevelopment was to “create a more attractive district”.

“The reality today is that we have a residential area where we are not creating the same opportunities for children or young people to succeed as there are elsewhere in Aarhus,” he said.

“That’s why we must make some significant interventions to succeed,” he said.

The Gellerup housing will be demolished between 2020 and 2024, while a decision on which homes in Toveshøj face demolition will be taken in 2023.

The development plan must be rubber-stamped by the city council and representatives of Brabrand Boligforening prior to being sent for approval by the Ministry of Transport, Building and Housing by June 1st. 

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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