A detailed and well-written history of condominiums (asunto-osakeyhtiö) in Finland: Kansan osake. Suomalaisen asunto-osakeyhtiön vaiheet (2017). A great resource for understanding the conditions of urbanization and the development of the middle-class. The Finnish condominium legislation enabled tilattomat (the estateless), loiset (the parasites) and itselliset (the self-makers), meaning groups of the Finnish population who didn’t own any property (also mäkitupalaiset and torpparit) to establish themselves in the developing cities.
The Finnish condominium system differs from many modern countries. The rights of the condominium shareholders have been defined by laws passed in the 20ties and even earlier. (In comparison similar laws were been passed France late 60ties) In the Finnish system shareholders don’t own their houses (the rooms they live in), they own a share of the condominium. All shareholders have a legally defined collective responsibility to upkeep the property. Individual renovations and changes made to homes must be agreed upon by other shareholders. In many other countries there are homeowners’ associations which manifest the collective will of the occupants but joining the association is not always mandatory. This is why it’s common that occupants fund their personal renovations and that the public spaces in the building are left unmaintained. Associations are also weaker legal entities then joint-stock companies – They cannot apply for loans as easily.
In 1901 only 25% of the Finnish population in the countryside (2,6mil.) owned any sort of property and only 15% lived in cities. These statistics are staggering compared to Sweden 25% or Denmark 40% (of the population living in cities). In 1880 there were 400 000 (in 1910, 700 000) members of the population defined as loiset (parasites)! In Finland urbanization offered a structure to escape from the oppression of landowners or more specifically from the grip of the talonpojat (direct translation: Sons of the House) class. 1873 in Helsinki 200 occupants were found to be homeless (100 where children). Until 1930 50% of the population got their income from farming related work.
Finnish condominiums where organized as joint-stock companies, which could apply for loans (some intended for social housing) from the government to build apartments for their shareholders. In the best examples, to get a loan each participant invested their own (borrowed) capital and their personal labor power for the venture. Personal labor power (as an investment) was talked of as a “Shoulderbank” (Hartiapankki). Socialist of the time felt that this arrangement was educational and helped the developing working class to learn how to manage their assets. The arrangement came about as a result of the housing crisis (caused by the modernization of work). People moving to the cities had to form their own companies and carry risk collectively because Finland didn’t have enough capitalist interested in building rental flats.
Also the city could serve as an investor in which case occupants would pay off the city’s investment through the monthly condominium-payment (yhtiövastike). Unfortunately the system has been misused by speculators from the beginning. (Most discussed in the case of Hitas houses, one of which I grew in. Sidenote: Haka was also an interesting effort) Majority of condominiums where built to be rented or sold. In time laws were passed which made speculation more difficult.
As a result WWII bombings and the loss of land (10% of houses were in cities which the Soviet Union claimed) small houses (rintamamiestalot) became popular. Rintamamiestalot were built from wood because people couldn’t afford concrete. At times over 1500 people in Helsinki were living in bomb-shelters and 11% of the population didn’t have a permanent homes (400 000 refugees arrived from areas the Soviet Union claimed). Lex Raatikainen gave the state the right to claim land to build houses (from cities) and facilitated the development a social housing program for people touched by the war. Even people who didn’t have any assets were granted loans backed by the state.
The Arava-loan system provided very long loan payment times for condominium building projects. People from upper-middle classes misused the system and gained access to new modernly equipped Arava funded homes (luckily this opened their old homes for the markets). Their behavior was tolerated because building projects didn’t have enough capital to begin with. Government run institutions (such as Alko) helped their employees to find homes condominiums.
The housing crisis continued through 60ties as capital was needed for the rapid industrialization. Various tax schemes were advised to boost the development of rental flats. Between 1960-75 a million people moved to cities and suburbs were constructed (over 700 000 houses were built – majority of which were condominiums). Concrete became a popular material and building methods were modelled after car-assembly lines. The dimensions of construction tools and lifters defined the distances between apartment blocks. The quality of building was poor but people didn’t complain. In 1965, 500 000 Finns didn’t have indoor plumbing (45 000 of them lived in Helsinki). As a result of the Finnish condominium system, social life in new developing suburbs was relatively peaceful (tenants were managed by their landlords and booted if there were complaints).
The book also explains why Espoo is so fucked up (p. 134-136) and details the history of Vuosaari as the “poormans Tapiola” due to it’s funding being gathered by a social housing association. Occupants of the Vuosaari blockhouses aided in the building as a part of the arrangement. In some cases up to 50% of the costs were covered by volunteer work (Hartiapankki rules!). After the 60ties people were actively encouraged to save money and to buy homes condominiums. Arava organization also promoted the idea of developing housing-cooperatives.. But they proved to be problematic as occupants who moved out had to sell their share with a fixed price (The Finnish condominium system actually resembles the Swedish housing-cooperative model, but is more dependent on capital). Setting fixed prices did not motivate the shareholders to develop their property.
In the dawn of of the 70ties people moving into the city started to favor small private houses (In 1988 70% of all new houses where private). Flats which were built to be rented were sold as their prices begun to rise late 70ties. In the late 80ties people were forced to buy flats because there were not enough rooms for rent! Loan were provided through international banks. The recession (1991-93) was the hardest in any European country after the war. People living in condominiums were relatively protected, they were allowed to only pay the interest of their mortgages.
A new crisis emerged as people realize that the poorly build blockhouses had to be renovated at some point. (In the 80ties building companies were not interested in it!) The reputation of the suburbs declined in the 90ties and the occupants (now old pensioners) and couldn’t afford massive renovations. The government supported renovations but only occupants from well-off neighborhoods managed to benefit from the support. Condominium restoration projects are difficult to arrange as they are dependent on a consensus between stakeholders. People are currently too poor to maintain their properties.
In 2009 Finnish condominium legislation was separated from general stock-company legislation and new regulations were passed concerning the right of stakeholders. According to the new law the condominium is collectively responsible for the exteriors of the house (window frames, doors etc.) and some “basic elements” indoors (toilet seats, water taps).
Blockhouses have very bad reputations in countries where legislation has been slow to cultivate the development of collective responsibility for the property.