Helsinki is an absolutely wonderful place to live in – for us students too. However, our home city is plagued with one problem that threatens to make living here extremely difficult at times. This problem concerns living itself: it is damn expensive to live in our city.
The situation is not really getting any better: apartment rents in the Capital Region in particular continue to rise. Looking at income distribution across generations, young people have clearly been on the losing side in recent years. According to the Opiskelijan kaupunki (‘student’s city’) study, housing costs in the Capital Region can amount to up to 70% of a student’s disposable income.
What can we do? The general consensus is that living only becomes affordable with the construction of a great deal more apartments into the city. This is something that, for instance, all the mayor candidates in Helsinki agree on. Why, then, is living in Helsinki so expensive if there is an obvious solution to the problem?
There are many reasons for this. On average, the suburbs of Helsinki have been constructed sparsely. On the other hand, the so called Nurmijärvi phenomenon (in which people move to the sparsely populated areas surrounding Helsinki) has turned on its head: people increasingly want to live downtown again, while politicians have been slow to wake up to the need of massive extra planning.
The higher education students in Helsinki strongly favour increasing housing production. The housing problem can be solved in a twofold manner: Firstly, we need an increase in housing production and, secondly, issues related to housing should be simpler than they currently are.
The construction goal for apartments annually built in Helsinki must be increased from the current 6,000 to 8,000, and at least 2,000 of them must be rental apartments with ARA support – and these figures must be held on to. At least 300 student apartments should be completed annually. We need bold supplementary construction, compact city blocks and urban boulevards.
Housing issues and construction must also be made simpler. In 2013, there were over one million square metres of empty office premises in the Capital Region. As many as 25,000 people could live in that space. New family apartments must be designed in a way that allows them to be easily adapted for cohousing. The parking space standard must be loosened: building parking spaces is expensive, and the development of traffic in Helsinki should be based on public transport, walking and cycling – not driving cars.
We are now returning to the question posed in the title: how can we achieve all of this? It might not happen at the drop of a hat, but one perfect opportunity is right around the corner. The election day of the municipal elections in on Sunday 9 April.
Make sure your vote is going to a candidate who wants to increase housing production significantly and make housing issues simpler.
Joel Lindqvist and HYY's Urban Team, our volunteer group for urban advocacy
Joel is a member of HYY’s Board working hard on the municipal elections. He lives in a five-person commune in a wooden house.