Developers want to build smaller

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One- and two-room apartments in Oslo are in such high demand that they’re often snapped up at prices far exceeding their appraised value. Current building regulations demand a mix of larger apartments in new housing projects, however, and since they’re slower to sell, developers want changes to allow construction of more small units. 

There’s huge demand for small housing units in Oslo, and prices are high. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The Oslo skyline is currently dotted with cranes and construction sites abound. New housing developments are being built at a rapid pace all over the capital, not least since Oslo is ranked as the fastest-growing city in Europe.

Work started on 1,750 new dwellings last year, reports newspaper Aftenposten, but the quantity is far from meeting demand. And while demand for compact living spaces soars, the majority being built contain three or more rooms. Current restrictions, set in place in 2007, restrict construction of one-room dwellings, and stipulate that new apartments be 40 square meters or larger. In new housing built in the city centre, half of the apartments need to be over 80m² and only 20 percent are allowed to be between 40-50m².

Developers propose change
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Nearly a dozen major property developers have now compiled a report where they are calling for a change in the regulations, reports Aftenposten. They point out that two-thirds of households in Oslo’s inner city are inhabited by just one person, without the income to afford a larger apartment.

“The supply is lopsided, and not meeting the demand,” says Martin Mæland, group chief executive of Nordic housing association Obos. Developers including Obos want to reduce the minimum size from 40 to 35m², and have the limit set at 40 percent for flats between 35 to 50m².

Mæland argues that if action is not taken, demand for flats in the city centre will go down, because it will become too expensive for both buyers and developers.

Up for discussion
The restrictions were put in place partly in order to ensure that there would be enough properties in town available for families, so that they would not be forced to move out of the city centre when they needed more living space.

Politicians from Norway’s Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap) want to have dialogue with developers, but also feel that it is important to have a more long-term perspective. “Housing prices could fall, and demand could change, so it’s important to have variety, and avoid a situation where entire areas of Oslo only have small-sized housing,” said Nina Bachke, a Labour politicians on the Urban Development Committee of Oslo’s City Council.

Other warnings against building too small were quick to surface. “One needs to be very careful about reducing the size of small properties, and allowing more one-bedroom apartments,” housing researcher Jon Guttu at the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research (Norsk Institutt for by- og regionforskning or NIBR) told Aftenposten.

Guttu argues that people do not want to live in very small flats for long periods, as they soon need more space. This can have negative consquences for residential areas and the local community when people are constantly moving in and out.

He says that 35m² will give enough space for a cramped two-room, or most likely a one-room flat. It is not ideal for the person living there, as they have hardly any space for storage and furniture, let alone a bedroom or place for guests. He believes that the minimum size for a decent living space is around 40m², and the current restriction on going any smaller should remain in place.

Political issue
Politicians for the Conservative Party (Høyre), meanwhile, are making housing issues part of their election campaign for next year. Party leader Erna Solberg unveiled a new platform of housing initiatives over the weekend aimed at easing the crunch.

“The main effort is to work out a new cooperation among the state, townships and the developers – not new state instructions but a new form of cooperation,” Solbrg told news bureau NTB. She urges faster processing of building applications, and better coordination of plans for building housing, roads, public transport, shops, even postal services and a local pharmacy.

The Conservatives, which may win next year’s national elections according to recent public opinion polls, are even proposing establishment of a government ministry devoted to housing issues. “This isn’t worked out yet, but it would be natural to coordinate all this through the ministry for local governments. We want obligatory goals for how much time can be used on the planning process, and measures to give developers more predictability.”

Views and News from Norway/Elizabeth Lindsay

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