A housing company in Munkkivuori, Helsinki, was able to pay for a thorough pipe renovation without borrowing by selling a part of its lot to a construction company – despite red tape and the resistance of some residents, Fred Packalén and Marketta Levanto say. The Ministry of the Environment has urged Finnish housing companies to take action to renovate decaying suburban neighbourhoods, pointing out that the maintenance backlog for residential buildings built in the 1960—70s has already crept up to tens of billions of euros.

In particular, housing companies have dragged their feet on renovations, partly due to the inability or unwillingness of ageing residents to contribute toward the renovation costs. In the face of a mounting maintenance backlog, both the value of property and quality of living have eroded.

Annually, as many as 15,000—20,000 residential buildings should be renovated. Pekka Pajakkala, a senior advisor of construction at the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT), estimates that by the late 2020s the effort will have cost tens of billions of euros.

Pia Viitanen (SDP), the Minister of Housing and Communications, has appointed a task force to identify measures to encourage housing companies to initiate the necessary work.

In its report unveiled on Tuesday, the task force identifies infill construction as a means for housing companies to raise funds for pipe, exterior and roof renovations as well as for investments in energy efficiency. Accordingly, the task force urges local governments to enhance the processing of permit applications for the construction of new residential buildings in underutilised areas.

If the construction requires revisions to the zoning plan, the revisions should be approved with no undue delays, the task force stresses.

The proceeds from the sale of land to a construction company would then replenish the depleted coffers of housing companies.

“Cities should waive their current land use fees for infill building permits,” says Teija Ojankoski, the head of the task force and the director of the Housing Department at the City of Vantaa.

In addition, the task force views that infill construction could be promoted by offering subsidies to local governments. The Government presently supports civil engineering projects in new residential areas with 36 million euros per year.

“The funds could be directed to suburbs in need of a facelift,” Ojankoski suggests.

Marja Salmela – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Kimmo Räisänen / HS