City-wide rental restrictions as banishment

In the aftermath of the shipyard closure in 1980, the city of Landskrona initially tried to compensate for the inner-city White flight and resulting housing vacancy by welcoming, assisting, and housing newly arrived refugees from Lebanon, Eastern Europe, and the Balkan countries. This changed the social demography of the city significantly, triggered a range of issues regarding income and education levels, and racialized crime and safety perceptions. These problems were originally met with a series of social programmes and a range of‘soft’ measures to help people get into employment or improve educational achievement (Baeten and Listerborn, 2015). The subsequent electoral successes of the extreme right-wing party, Sweden Democrats, together with growing discontent amongst shopkeepers and business leaders alike, triggered an entirely new approach to the city’s problems.

The game-changing Crossroads Plan of 2012 (Landskrona Stad., 2012) no longer prioritized social answers to social problems. Instead, it considered high levels of affordable rental housing - for decades the cornerstone of social-democratic housing policies and the cornerstone of the nationalist socialist folkhem ideology - as the single root cause of all problems. The problem of poverty was now redefined as a problem of poor peoples’ presence in the city, enabled by specific housing market features. Changing those features would ban poor people from the city. In order to achieve this goal, the city authorities successfully disseminated a storyline wherein ‘unserious landlords’ rent out to ‘benefit-dependent’ tenants, a process that is regarded to cause crime, low education levels, unemployment, benefit dependency, unsafety, and a weak tax base.

Through its subsidiary Landskrona Stadsutveckling AB, a public-private partnership of municipal authorities and (major) private landlords, the city not only issued a warning for aspiring immigrants on social benefits or low

Keeping out the poor 115 income, but it also issued a city-wide rental policy in 2013 (renewed in 2015) that would apply to both private and public landlords alike. This policy prevents landlords from renting out to persons on social benefits and to persons who would spend more than one-third of their income on rent (alongside some other restrictions). These restrictions proved to have potentially far-reaching effects. First, the policy deters persons on social benefits or low income from moving to Landskrona from nearby municipalities. The policy was accompanied by verbal violence from city officials and politicians. In a local newspaper interview in 2012, the Mayor declared ‘My message to all welfare benefit recipients is, do not move to Landskrona. If you have a problem, then please ask elsewhere where you are more likely to get attention’ (Lonnaeus, 2012). In the same interview, he stated that ‘we have a city centre characterized by social benefit dependency’. One of the architects of the Crossroads Plan stated in a newspaper interview in 2011 that the city has allowed in ‘a category of people we do not want’ and that these unserious tenants should be ‘returned to the municipalities where they come from’ (Brant, 2011).

Second, the policy deters landlords from renting out to poor population segments. Twenty-three landlords have now officially subscribed to the city’s rental policy, covering seventy-five per cent of the total rental housing stock (Landskrona Stadsutveckling, 2017), leading to a reduction in both the volume of housing stock available to the poor and the number of ‘unserious landlords’. The policy is supported by real and verbal intimidation. The CEO of Landskrona Stadsutveckling AB declared in an interview,

There are some property owners who are not interested. We try to identify those who do not care, and we will mobilize the authorities [such as environmental inspection and fire safety control]. If you only want a property as a cash-cow, then that should cost; that should not be fun. We will use all means possible to force property owners to jump on the development bandwagon.

(Petterson, 2013)

In other words, all landlords who do not comply with the rental policy are deemed ‘unserious’, and the city will use its powers to guard fire safety and environmental standards to threaten ‘unserious’ landlords with potential compulsory purchase orders if they do not respect the city’s rental policy restrictions. ‘Unserious’ is of course a very vague category and therefore renders significant power to the city authorities, who can both decide which landlord is not serious and take the necessary measures accordingly. Thus, the city designs the policy, acts as a judge, and implements repressive measures if needed, all through its newly established public-private company Stadsutveckling AB. The public-private nature of the implementing body keeps these actions outside the ‘normal’ democratic procedures of accountability to and control by the peoples' representatives in the City Council.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >