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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Party leader ‘sorry’ about housing flap

Government minister Kjell Ingolf Ropstad, leader of the embattled Christian Democrats party, added to his own political woes on Monday when he had to apologize for taking advantage of the state’s housing benefit for politicians who commute to Oslo. The 36-year-old Ropstad didn’t report moving out of his parents’ home in Southern Norway until just last year, enabling he and his family to live in state-paid “commuter housing” since he was first elected to Parliament in 2009.

Christian Democrats leader Kjell Ingolf Ropstad was in trouble Monday, after Aftenposten reported how he’s benefited from taxpayer-financed housing for 10 years. PHOTO: Forsvaret/ Torbjørn Kjosvold

Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Monday that Ropstad not only had his housing paid for by the state from 2009 until 2020, since he was registered as living more than 40 kilometers outside Oslo. His failure to ever register an address in Oslo,where he’d arrived as a student in 2005, also qualified him for state-paid trips back to his home town and various tax benefits.

“I’m sorry about this,” Ropstad told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) later on Monday. “We politicians need public confidence and should do things in a proper manner, so I understand that there’s reaction to this.”

Ropstad didn’t violate any laws or even regulations, but Aftenposten documented how he has benefited greatly from never having registered his actual home address in Oslo with state authorities until last year. He already lived in Oslo when he was first elected to Parliament, and even had bought an apartment in Oslo’s Gamlebyen neighbourhood that he shared with a brother and three others. He was still officially registered, however, as living at his parents’ address at Moisund in Agder County.

Owning the Oslo apartment had initially prompted rejection of his application to live in one of the Parliament’s own 143 apartments used for commuter housing for MPs. He then sold it, reports Aftenposten, but Ropstad insisted he didn’t sell the apartment in 2009 in order to qualify for commuter housing. He claims his brother, who had a stake in the apartment, needed to liberate capital.

After selling the Oslo apartment, Aftenposten reports, Ropstad then bought half of a duplex in Lillestrøm, just 29 kilometers northeast of Oslo, in 2009 when he became a Member of Parliament. That didn’t trigger any questions from Parliament, however, since he was still officially registered as living in his parents’ home. He never moved into the Lillestrøm home, opting instead to move into one of the many residences the Parliament owns, initially one at Skøyen in Oslo. Since he was officially registered as living farther than 40 kilometers from Oslo, it was within his rights to do so. He ended up renting out the residence in Lillestrøm and sold it in 2005.

That means he earned rental income while living at taxpayer expense in Oslo for five years. He now admits that’s not the intention of the housing benefit. He can, however, rightfully argue that his legal address at the time was in Agder, so he qualified for the benefit. Aftenposten wrote that he actually lived in three different taxpayer-financed apartments during his 11 years in Parliament and as a member of the government, most recently with a wife and two children.

Finally bought their own home last fall
Ropstad’s wife and children were registered as living in the Parliament’s apartments in Oslo all along, even while he was still registered as living out of town. Last year he and his family bought a new home at Nordstrand in Oslo for NOK 12.5 million (USD 1.4 million). Ropstad, now a government minister in charge of children’s and family issues, finally registered his official residence as Oslo and gave up the housing benefit when they moved into their new home last November.

The intention of commuter homes for MPs is to free them of extra costs when they must live in Oslo but maintain a home in their home districts. Ropstad represented Agder, even though he had no home of his own there. He told Aftenposten he “can understand that the MPs’ housing benefit system can seem unfair,” but stresses that he never broke any rules. When he became a government minister, the government ended up assuming his housing costs.

His boss, Prime Minister Erna Solberg, also noted that Ropstad’s choice of registered residence was in line with regulations, but not unproblematic. “We politicians must be very careful about using benefits in a way that’s not in line with their intention,” Solberg told NRK Monday morning. She had to face lots of questions about Aftenposten’s story on a morning talkshow in which she supposed to be addressing other issues just a week ahead of the election.

There won’t be any direct consequences for Ropstad, other than the effects of bad publicity when support for his party is so low that it’s barely qualifying for full representation in Parliament. He’s likely to lose his ministerial post anyway, since polls indicate Solberg’s coalition won’t win a third term next Monday. Berglund



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