As a youngster growing up in Sweden, the notion of a summer house was as familiar to me as ABBA, meatballs, and Eurovision victories. More than half the population own these second homes – assets that have typically been passed down through several generations of families – and they range from simple cottages to lavish properties that provide a bucolic bolthole for people itching to escape the cities and enjoy Sweden’s rural landscapes.
However, in modern-day Sweden the romanticised vision of summer homes is under threat. The consequent shifting societal landscape means these homes risk becoming a luxury limited to the privileged few, with new home-owners locked out of an increasingly fractured housing market.
Simultaneously in Scotland, rural housing – and consequently many of the local economies in which those homes exist – are considered by many to have reached a crisis point, with the lack of affordable housing a particular concern, albeit there are signs of hope in some island communities.
My home country is experiencing many of the same issues as my adopted home. The rate at which the cost-of-living, salaries, rent and property prices are rising in Sweden and the UK are similar, as are the obstacles to building the homes that people need. For example, developers have to navigate an overly complicated planning system before a shovel can break ground, not to mention substantial material and labour shortages.
Sweden’s housing market is among the most precarious in Europe, thanks to the fallout from several geo-political factors such as the invasion of Ukraine, the collapse of major international banks, coupled with stark increases in population, and local political tensions. The Stockholm Chamber of Commerceis reporting that housing is one of the main factors hindering the recruitment and retention of staff, mirroring tensions in many Scottish rural areas.
With multiple factors at work, we should be careful of over-simplifying the challenge, but fundamentally this is an issue of demand and supply, with the former outstripping the latter. If we are serious about providing equitable access to housing and protecting our rural communities, that mismatch needs to be addressed by governments in both Sweden and Scotland, and quickly.