Denmark proposes affordable rental housing in Christiania enclave

Denmark’s government wants to build subsidised housing in Christiania, an alternative enclave of Copenhagen first established as a squat in the 1970s.

Christiania, here photographed in September 2021, could be one of a number of parts of Copenhagen to get new affordable rental housing under a new government plan.
Christiania, here photographed in September 2021, could be one of a number of parts of Copenhagen to get new affordable rental housing under a new government plan. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Christiania, home to around 900 people, is now legally owned by its residents and recently marked the 50-year anniversary of its foundation when squatters moved into a disused army barracks in 1971.

By proposing the construction of new subsidised housing in Christiania, the government could change the ‘freetown’ significantly.

The proposal to put new homes in the area part of a plan to build 22,000 new subsidised homes in Denmark by 2035, presented by the government on Tuesday.

The proposal text lists a number of specific locations in Copenhagen where new subsidised housing could be established, including parts of Nørrebro and Bispebjerg as well as Christiania.

“If we want to create balance in all of Denmark, we also need to create balance in our big cities. That balance is tipped when it’s hard for normal people to find housing and when new residential areas are on the way to becoming affluent quarters,” housing minister Kaare Dybvad Bek said, presenting the plan on Tuesday.

“We are therefore putting ourselves at the forefront of building more subsidised homes to ensure mixed cities,” the minister added.

READ ALSO: How the cost of renting an apartment in Copenhagen compares to other cities in Denmark

The proposal does not give clear detail on the viability of constructing new homes in Christiania, but says the government will “investigate” and “work targetedly towards” building subsidised housing in the area.

Neither is any figure given for how many of the 22,000 homes will be placed in Christiania.

The government proposes that municipalities be given the power to demand that up to 33 percent of housing in new developments are allocated to subsidised housing.

This will “need a change to the law and it will need money,” Dybvad said.

Ten billion kroner from Nybyggerifonden, foundation into which residents in newly-built subsidised housing have paid as part of their rent since 1999, will be used to build the 22,000 new homes by 2035, according to the plan.

The foundation, which currently has around one billion kroner, will be used to finance a new foundation for economically divers cities and will receive five billion kroner up to 2031, according to the plan outlined Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Christiania residents said in response to Tuesday’s announcement that they would wait until more detail of the proposal emerges before taking any stance on it.

“We don’t know anything about the proposal, so we’ll have to address it when (detail) comes,” Hulda Mader from Christiania’s press group said.

READ ALSO: Denmark’s ‘freetown’ Christiania hangs onto soul, 50 years on

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EXPLAINED: What is a Danish ‘housing association’?

You might have heard the term ‘boligforening’ or housing association in Denmark. Perhaps you live in an apartment managed by such an association. But what are they exactly and what is their role?

EXPLAINED: What is a Danish 'housing association'?

A boligforening is an association which, according to the Danish dictionary, “owns housing and rents its apartments out to its members”. So while you’d probably translate the word to “housing association” in English, what a boligforening does and its role in the Danish housing landscape takes a bit more explanation.

It is important to note the difference between the two main types of rental housing in Denmark: private rentals and almene boliger (literally, ‘general housing’), a form of subsidised housing.

For almene boliger, local municipalities put up 10 percent of building costs and in return have the right to decide who is allocated one in four available apartments, enabling them to provide housing to municipal residents who need it. The housing therefore plays a role in the social housing provision.

This type of housing is normally managed by a boligforening or housing association. Rent goes towards costs of running the housing and to pay off the housing association’s loans, which means property owners aren’t profiting from rents and prices are controlled.

Aside from housing assigned by the municipality, almene boliger are open for anyone. However, to get one, you must get to the top of a waiting list, which you join by signing up with associations (hence the stipulation of “members” in the dictionary definition) which operate housing in the city where you live (or want to live).

In Copenhagen or Aarhus, it can take years to get to the top of these lists, while in smaller cities you might get an offer in weeks or even days.

As such, newcomers to Denmark must often turn to the private rental market if they are living in one of the main cities.

READ ALSO: Deposits, complaints and registration: Five key things to know about renting in Denmark

People who live in almene boliger can apply to the local municipality for a special loan to pay their deposit when moving in. The deposit is likely to be a significant cost because deposits can be as much as three months’ rent.

Additionally, rental contracts can stipulate up to three months of rent upfront, meaning you can be faced with paying eye-watering costs equivalent to six months of rent before even getting the keys to your flat.

The interest on the loan is very low and it is usually only paid back when you are returned your deposit (or what’s left of it) after moving out.