When Katherine Skarn received a letter from the Oslo municipality that she had been allocated municipal housing in Sagini, she was left speechless. She saw the rent amount and thought there must be a mistake.
It’s been 13 years now. Today, she pays NOK 16,300 in rent, including the Oslo subsidy housing subsidy. During these years, Skårn periodically received work settlement allowance, but had been working for the past six years. In addition to working in a home with disabled adults, she works part-time for a tenants’ association.
As a single parent of four, finances were nonetheless tight, and there was no room for money to spare.
Municipal housing is presented as a temporary housing offer. At the same time, it’s the biggest poverty trap you can fall into, says Scarn.
Earlier this year, the Housing and Welfare Research Center (Bovel) in Oslomit conducted a survey on municipal housing. 170 municipalities and seven counties of Oslo responded to the survey. Of those, nearly 70 percent reported that they used some form of market-based rent.
I’m not surprised
Jardar Sørvoll, researcher and chair of Bovel, is one of those behind the survey. He was not surprised by the discovery.
– For municipalities, this is a way of making sure that they have funds for maintenance and rationing of supply, so that there is no strong financial incentive for people with relatively good finances to live in the municipality. Instead of subsidizing rent for all, municipalities support the poorest residents with social assistance and a housing allowance.
However, the researcher was surprised that nearly 80 percent of the municipalities adjust rental prices annually according to the overall increase in the consumer price index. It is the highest possible rent adjustment under the Rent Act.
He points out that Oslo is an example of a municipality that previously froze municipal rent prices, in order to save residents from huge expenditure increases.
What happens to real estate fees for those who already have very narrow margins in the economy, he wonders.
You can apply for financial social assistance from the authorities of the municipality of Nav to get help for necessary expenses, such as rent. Surfull thinks this is not a good solution.
– It is not positive to rely on a temporary benefit to pay the rent, he says and continues:
– There are many paradoxes in this sector. It is the market management of a sector in which people with poor financial resources generally live.
Sørvoll was surprised how similar the answers from the municipalities were. Among other things, almost everyone reported that they had very few municipal housing.
Skarn admits this from his tenants’ association work.
– People meet the basic requirements and are therefore entitled to municipal housing, but they are subject to refusal due to the lack of municipal housing. She says the waiting list is already very long, so they don’t put more people on the list.
The use of start-up loans varies
Municipal housing must initially be a temporary offer. To help people enter the housing market, the municipality can offer start-up loans. The survey conducted by Oslomet showed, however, that the extent to which municipalities use this scheme varies.
Some use it very creatively, while others are more passive, says Sørvoll.
As an example of what is called creative use, it refers to home loans that can be granted at a fixed rate of interest and an extra long repayment period.
– People with low stable incomes, for example those receiving disability benefits, can have lower housing costs by owning than by renting.
He says it will continue to vary between municipalities how easy it is to use the scheme.
– If you have a housing market that is not as hot as Oslo, you may have better chances, because more housing will be affordable for municipal tenants.
I don’t know where they will live
Katherine Scarne has applied for a startup loan several times and has been denied each time.
According to her, the reason is that she has debts. She explains the debt by saying that she made bad priorities when the money wasn’t enough to be able to give the children what they needed.
Despite tough economic times, the building’s years in Sagini were good. Now they risk moving from the place that has been home for the past decade.
The lease must be renewed, and she fears they will be rejected, because on paper she has a decent income.
– I understand, of course, that there are others who may need municipal housing more than me. At the same time, I was alone with four children, and there was nowhere to put any money. I can’t get a loan, and I don’t have money to deposit, she says and adds:
– Where can I find a landlord who is interested in renting a property without a deposit?
Skårn has fallen on hard times before. It’s OK to live in uncertainty for short periods, she says, but it takes a toll on teenage children who worry about their future housing situation.
– At the same time, I must say, I am beginning to feel half panicked, but I am trying to be a little calm and keep calm so that the panic does not take hold of me.
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