Without a home, who would you be? Having an address solves many practical challenges like getting a bank account or having post delivered. Home is far more than address. Alongside physical shelter, a home provides emotional shelter, providing a secure base from which we can build our lives and connect to society. And that, KTH researcher Kerstin Annadotter argues, is why homelessness is such a corrosive phenomenon. People without a home lack one of life’s fundamental sources of personal security, not simply an address.
Kerstin’s research focuses on sustainable housing strategies, especially strategies that support the more vulnerable members of society to get and keep homes. She is passionate about the interwoven issues of social and economic sustainability in housing and the contribution they make to an inclusive, just society.
“Whilst Sweden has had a reputation for providing housing for all” Kerstin reflects, “increases in income inequality combined with short-sighted housing policies and cuts in the welfare system affecting the rental sector in particular, mean that more and more people face a genuine threat of not finding a home. The current market situation doesn’t help with a severe lack of rental housing for all potential tenants”.
Is it your fault?
Whilst individuals who find themselves in these types of situation often balm their own actions or lack of resources, Kerstin argues that housing policies and social changes, in fact, have a far greater impact.
Kerstin’s work examines the practices of housing companies in Sweden and the social and economic consequences these have – for residents, for the housing companies themselves and for society in a broader sense.
“Most housing companies,” Kerstin continues “have created criteria for those who want to rent their properties that are simply impossible for the more vulnerable members of society to achieve –such as having a salary at least three times the rent.” Kerstin’s research helps make the criteria housing companies use to judge prospective tenants explicit, as well as the consequences of using these criteria.
Kerstin is also interested in the topic of “renoviction” – when housing companies, accidentally or on purpose, use the renovation process to displace residents from their homes on a permanent basis. The supposedly good act of renovating an apartment thus can have the perverse effect of breaking down the personal security and sense of community that underpin social sustainability.
Renovating at a human scale
“Together with colleagues, I champion a more incremental approach to renovation” comments Kerstin. Rather than a whole residential block being renovated at one time and to a single level of quality, Kerstin recommends that a housing company renovate to variable levels that existing clients can afford. Different quality mean existing tenants can return to their homes and, as homes become available, a diversity of new tenants can be attracted at a range of rental levels.
“We can tackle this challenge humanely and in an affordable manner if we tackle it early” Kerstin argues. “Helping people get in to a home and then stay in that home is far more affordable that dealing with the dreadful social and economic costs of homelessness”. She admires the policies of one municipal housing company in Uppsala that has no income criteria for accepting tenants and, with minimum resources, helps vulnerable tenants managing their finances so that they can stay in their home.
Looking forward, Kerstin wants to explore the neighborhoods around housing blocks more deeply, examining the type of investments that different actors make (or don’t make) in neighbourhoods today and how these also affect economic or social sustainability.
If you’d like to find out more about Kerstin Annadotter’s research her profile page at KTH takes you to several links.
Kerstin Annadotter is part of the Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment working group.