On the one hand there is the home office, on the other, overcrowded housing. The quality of well-being at home has never been of such importance, but at the same time, housing has also become more unequal.

These are the findings of Tapio Salonen and Martin Grander, who analysed the Swedish housing issue during the pandemic.

"Corona is not an equal virus", the two researchers write in a new article published by the authority Delegation against Segregation (Delmos), "rather it exposes deep gaps in the structure of society". In the article, they have summarised some of the research they both conducted on inequality in housing.

The discussion was about ethnicity and language difficulties, not about how crowded many people’s living conditions are, and what the consequences of those conditions might be.

Martin Grander

The corona pandemic has shed light on one's own home and the importance of a good home, as more and more people spend an increased amount of time where they reside.

“Different crises have different processes; the specifics of the corona crisis are the emphasis on the importance of the home, which has of late had a renaissance. The queues at the DIY stores have never been longer, and second homes are being increasingly used for remote work. That's one side, but we are more interested in the other side,” says Salonen, professor of social work.

This spring, the spread of infection in the Järva area of Stockholm, where there is a high number of crowded households, made Swedish headlines. The City of Stockholm launched a widespread information campaign about the virus. But was it because the inhabitants in the area did not understand the message of social distancing that the infection spread so rapidly?

No, that is simplified reasoning, the two researchers argue. Living in both cramped households and lacking the opportunity to work from home — or even adjusting their working hours to avoid rush hour on public transport — doubles the vulnerability in a pandemic.

“The discussion was about ethnicity and language difficulties, not about how crowded many people’s living conditions are, and what the consequences of those conditions might be. Residents in these areas also often have front-line or customer-facing occupations and have to get to work,” says Grander, housing researcher and director of the research environment Studies in Housing and Welfare.

During the last two decades, overcrowding has increased in Sweden, mainly among low-income families and new arrivals to the country. The corona pandemic underscores the risks. The proportion of cases of covid-19 is highest in the most crowded residential areas.

The researchers' participation in Delmos’ series of articles has therefore inspired a new study on overcrowding in Sweden’s third largest city, Malmö.

“The statistics show a harsh reality; overcrowding decreased for a number of years, but since then this has changed. The 2000s were a paradoxical time when the quality of the vast majority of households had gotten better, but inequality increased — we need this review of overcrowding,” says Salonen.

 

Text: Ellen Albertsdottir

Find out more

Read a short introduction to the work of Delmos, and discover more about the researchers.