House of Belonging-Integration in Social Housing A comparative study of ethnic minorities’ position in the social housing market in Oslo and Copenhagen
Aims and objectives: In what follows, my aim is to shed light on the social housing sector in Oslo, and how it impacts the ethnic minorities living there. Based on the Norwegian government’s goal for everyone to live well and safely, it seems logical that the social rental sector and other municipal policies should promote integration and reduce segregation and marginalization. I aim to explore to what extent the social housing sector in Oslo contributes to achieve these goals. To help illuminate the main features of Oslo’s social housing and related policies, the case of Copenhagen will be used as a comparative contrast. Research questions: Based on the above, the wording of my research questions is as follows: To what extent is the social housing sector used as an instrument of integration for ethnic minorities? What are the consequences of municipal social housing policy: To what extent has the social housing sector and related municipal policies contributed to reducing segregation and marginalization of ethnic minority household? What may be done to solve the current challenges connected to ethnic minorities and public housing in Oslo? Background: The Norwegian housing model is based on the goal to have as many people as possible become home owners. Although home ownership today stands stronger than ever, some households are unable to get satisfactory housing in the market, and are therefore left to the social housing sector. Among these households, some ethnic minority groups are overrepresented. Social housing in Norway mainly refers to a marginal and targeted system providing housing only for the most vulnerable (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009; Sandlie & Gulbrandsen, 2017). Although there are many political and social similarities between Norway and Denmark, Denmark has a completely different social housing system based on all but universal access for all types of households. Moreover, the tenants have a significant influence on their housing situation through a resident democracy. Many therefore believe it would be wise to steer Norwegian social housing policy towards a system similar to our neighbour across the sea. (Skifter Andersen, Andersson, Wessel, & Vilkama, 2016) There are few systematic comparative contributions within the field of Nordic social housing (Andersen, Andersson, Wessel, & Wilkama, 2015; Andersen, Turner, & Søholt, 2013; Andersson et al., 2010; Bengtsson, 2013). However, the impact of social housing on ethnic minorities is rarely addressed in empirically informed research (but see Søholt (2001), Grødem (2011) and Grødem and Skog Hansen (2015) for prominent exceptions) This thesis is meant as a step towards filling this gap in the scholarly literature. Methods and theoretical concepts: In Oslo, 7 semi-structured interviews were conducted. My informants were employees in the social housing sector and related municipal administrative bodies, or represented the Tenant Association and representatives from different social housing estates. In Copenhagen, I interviewed employees in the nonprofit housing sector, the Danish Tenant Association and a senior researcher from the social housing field. Copenhagen functions as a comparative contrast in the thesis – it is not primarily included in the analysis for its own sake, but rather to enlighten the analysis of Oslo, the main case. I analysed my empirical material with the aid of Søholt’s theoretical understanding of the terms ‘integration’, ‘segregation’ and ‘marginalization’ (Søholt, 2010), and Ager and Strang´s (2008) conceptual framework for understanding different domains of integration . Findings and conclusions: Given the government’s goal for everyone to live well and safely, social housing policies have not succeeded. As long as the social housing sector in Oslo remains a temporary solution for the most disadvantaged, it will be difficult for ethnic minorities to achieve a housing situation on a par with the majority population. The weak integration provided by the social housing sector and related policies, translates into societal marginalization for many social housing tenants, including minority households. This marginalization manifests itself in poor housing and living conditions as well as limited freedom in the housing market. If substantial reforms are not implemented in the future, an ever-increasing market rent combined with a small social housing sector, will surely further weaken the safety net for this part of the population. In this thesis, Danish social housing policy has functioned as a good contrasting example because it illuminates the particularities, faults and shortcomings of the case of Oslo. The peculiar features of the Danish case, includes longer rental contracts, less strict means-testing and a stronger emphasis on social work in the social sector – three reforms that may prove beneficial for the integration of ethnic minority households. Even though social housing in Denmark is not a perfect system without its own problems, the case of Copenhagen proves that it is possible to have a reasonably well-functioning social housing system next to a system favouring homeownership.
Bjelland, Marit Hals