Half of well-known Danish ‘ghetto’ to be sold as residents rue uncertain future

Mjølnerparken, the Copenhagen housing estate known for its inclusion on the government’s ‘ghetto list’, expects to sell about 260 of its homes by the end of March.

Half of well-known Danish 'ghetto' to be sold as residents rue uncertain future
Mjølnerparken in Copenhagen in December 2019. Photo: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix

The impending sale was confirmed in a statement by Bo-Vita, the company that runs Mjølnerparken’s subsidized housing.

Sale of homes and accompanying relocation of residents at Mjølnerparken will take place in line with the 2018 ‘ghetto plan’, a legacy of the previous government’s efforts to tackle social issues in underprivileged areas. The area, located within the Nørrebro area of Copenhagen, is regularly cited in public discourse about so-termed ‘ghettos’ in Denmark.


“Mjølnerparken will now be removed from the ghetto list must once and for all. We have made social plans for Mjølnerparken residents for 14 years and we must conclude that we have not reached our goal. We need to re-think,” writes Bo-Vita chairperson Jan Hyttel said in the statement.

Bo-Vita administrates around 500 homes in the neighbourhood, writes that the sale is in conjunction with a planned major renovation. Three potential buyers have been identified with a sale expected to be completed in March.

“We will under no circumstances sell Mjølnerparken to one of these ‘buy it, fix it, sell it’ investors which politicians have recently have vented their anger,” Hyttel said in the statement.

READ ALSO: Explained: Who are Blackstone and what do they want with Denmark's rental properties?

“We are only interested in an investor who has a long-term interest in the area,” he added.

The proceeds from the sale, the purpose of which is to remove Mjølnerparken from the government’s ‘ghetto list’, will partly be used to relocate residents who will be forced to move as a result of the sale. Money will also be spent on the construction of new subsidized housing elsewhere in the city.

“As such, we can guarantee that Bo-Vita will have the same number of subsidized family homes after the sale as it does today,” Hyttel writes.

Relocation of residents is not scheduled to commence until 2022.

Mohammad Aslam, chairman of Mjølnerparken’s residents’ association, told broadcaster DR that he would have preferred to have seen the homes converted into student housing in line with organic relocation of the existing occupants.

“Many of the people who are now being forced away have lived here for many years. Their children were born and raised here, their network is here. Many of them are very afraid and nervous about where they will end up now. What the rent will be. And whether they will prosper in a new area,” Aslam told DR.

Hyttel told the broadcaster that it was regrettable to have to relocate residents out of the area, but that this was a “compulsory assignmnent” required to ensure Mjølnerparken’s removal from the ‘ghetto list’.

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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