Life in Sweden

No Room at the Inn

Whilst the picture above may raise a slight smile, it conveys the serious problem of Stockholm’s housing shortage.

Finding accommodation is Sweden is surprisingly difficult with most people having to join long queues in order to be considered for apartments. It can take months, or even years, to reach the top of these lists.

This is something that I didn’t really believe until I arrived in Sweden as I have moved around more than my fair share. I have lived in 15 different houses in 5 countries (counting England and Wales separately, of course!) and I have never yet experienced any difficulties in finding a rental property. Once I started at the school, however, the extent of the problem in Stockholm became shockingly apparent.

Luckily for me I had accommodation available in Västerås when I first arrived in Sweden. Nicklas and I are living in his parents’ amazing top floor city apartment while they live in their summer house by the lake. This is something that they do every year so I have not thrown them out of house and home, although now that the temperature is starting to drop we are beginning our own house-search.

Unfortunately, my new colleagues have not been so lucky as they have had to find their own accommodation in Stockholm – one of them even choosing to break contract and leave as the stress of having no home became too much. When they first arrived most of them stayed in a youth hostel whilst they began their search for a place to call home. The initial agreement was that the school would cover the costs of the hostel and registration fees to accomodation websites.

One week stretched into two or three, with the school extending financial support to those still in hostels. Some of them found places relatively quickly, others had great stories of places they had been to see: a tiny apartment with no windows or extortionate rent for a room the size of a single bed. Some have settled for less than favourable living conditions: living in an old lady’s basement, sharing a house in which the landlord sleeps in the kitchen, a summer house with no hot water. And don’t be fooled into thinking that the rent for these places comes cheap, nothing in Sweden is cheap and Stockholm is the worst of all.

Increasing numbers of students flocking to Stockholm each year is partially responsible for the problem. According to newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, “52,200 [students] are now in the student housing queue in Stockholm. This is an increase from around 44,000 last year and from around 25,000 in 2007. Naturally the waiting time has been longer during this period. Three years ago, there were three months waiting time for a room in a student dorm. Today the waiting time is 12-15 months for a dorm and longer for a flat with private kitchen.” This year has seen record numbers of students arriving in Stockholm from outside of the EU due to Sweden’s announcement that university education will no longer be free outside of the EU from September 2011. All of this just adds to an already difficult situation.

So, now I begin my own search for a place in Sweden. Västerås is not as bad as Stockholm, but still in the last few weeks of looking only 2 or 3 places have been advertised and we think that we have already found the perfect place. Fully furnished, two bedroom apartment with a garage. Perfect size, perfect location, brilliant price. It’s just a shame about the rather large and graphic dominatrix tiles on the kitchen wall.

Still it’s better than a tent!

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