Housing for refugees in Sweden: from negotiations between the state and local municipalities, to a top-down enforcement

Housing event

Housing for asylum seekers and persons granted international protection is a contested issue. The state relies on local municipalities to settle refugees, and on the other hand, local governments experience housing shortages and need to make decisions how to prioritise between different groups in need of apartments.

In February 2019, about 55 percent of asylum seekers in Sweden – over 27,000 people – chose not to live in reception centres and instead, stayed in accommodations arranged themselves. According to Morgan Johansson, Minister of Justice and Migration in Sweden, the possibility to live outside reception centres has negative consequences. During a recent press release, he stated:[1]

Own accommodation for asylum seekers can cause considerable social problems. This may involve, for example, increased segregation, extreme overcrowding and difficulties for the municipalities to offer welfare services.”

The opportunity for asylum seekers to arrange their own accommodation is unique in comparison to most EU-countries. The policy has reduced the cost of asylum reception centres, but it also has an ideological component. Researchers have suggested that a strong normative position of individual autonomy in the housing market, including asylum seekers, has produced a path dependent discursive lock-in, making it difficult for policy makers to reduce asylum seekers right to settle where they want (Borevi & Bengtsson, 2015). It means that asylum seekers that chose to live in certain ‘vulnerable neighbourhoods’ lose their daily allowance. The ambition of the state to reduce own accommodation for asylum seekers, thus, ended up with a minor policy change using economic incentives that probably won´t have a large impact.

Municipalities where many asylum seekers and refugees live, have lobbied to restrict possibilities for asylum seekers to find their own accommodation. Municipalities become responsible for asylum seekers after they receive protection, therefore, arrangements for asylum seekers have spill over effects on refugee settlement, where local municipalities have little control on settlement.

Nevertheless, there are a number of people who live in state reception centres that need assistance finding housing once they are granted international protection. Settlement of these persons is arranged through voluntary agreements, between the state and local municipalities. Municipalities accept settlement and receive state funding to cover all expenses for the first two years. However, even before the ‘refugee crisis’ this system lacked capacity to settle all those in need of support. The solution was to require municipalities to accept a designated number of refugees.

As of 2016, municipalities are obliged to arrange reception for those living in reception centres (Bill 2015/16:54). The Migration Board calculates regional quotas based on labour market conditions, size of the region, and the number of asylum seekers and refugees in each locality. It is then the regional County Administrative Boards who decides how many refugees each municipalities is to receive. This policy solution is controversial since the autonomy of local governments is enshrined in the Swedish constitution.

[1] https://www.regeringen.se/pressmeddelanden/2019/06/regeringen-vill-andra-reglerna-om-eget-boende-for-asylsokande/

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