Government blocks senior housing

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Norway is going to need lots of assisted-living units for seniors as the population ages, but the left-center government doesn’t want private real estate developers to profit from them. The result: Units aren’t being built.

Senior housing like this project in California, where residents can live independently but have various levels of on-site assistance and social activities, are hard to find in Norway. PHOTO: Magnolia of Millbrae

The Labour party wants to address the challenge through communal or  “fellesskap” solutions.  However, according to newspaper Aftenposten, this is not working. Even the boligbyggelag (housing cooperatives that build and run affordable housing) have been shut out.

During the past 15 years, the number of Norwegians aged 70 and above has risen by 10,000. Soon the number of elderly will climb significantly. By the year 2016 this group will increase by 22,000 people and the growth rate will continue in the following years.

This is expected to increase demand for accommodation for older people who need limited amounts of care and assistance. However, just as the need has been growing, the government has changed subsidy regulations for assisted-living housing (called omsorgsboliger in Norway). This has stopped several projects. The aim of the changes is to stop private contractors from making money off care for the elderly.

Only voluntary and non-profit organizations qualify for the government subsidies in excess of NOK 400,000 (USD 65,000) per unit. This excludes housing cooperatives.

According to the vice-chairman of the association of housing cooperatives, Tore Johannesen, the government is guided by ideology that excludes public-private partnerships.

“It’s difficult to follow the political purpose,” Johannesen told Aftenposten. “Housing cooperatives are not out to make money on this. In this case we think that the authorities have got their priorities mixed up.”

Four local authorities have applied and had their projects rejected.  Mayor Odd Henriksen in Fauske, from the Conservative Party, finds the new policy incomprehensible.

“The construction project was stopped because the model of building through housing cooperatives has been stopped,” Henriksen said. “This is a method we have used sucessfully for many years. Therefore we can’t understand the ban.”

Frustration over the new policy also runs high in Oslo. “Something is crazy when the government can spend hundreds of millions on private kindergartens, while at the same time banning private companies from building assisted living housing and nursing homes,” says Progress Party politician Sylvi Listhaug, who heads Oslo’s social services.

Views and News from Norway/Sven Goll
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