A detailed and well-written history of housing companies (asunto-osakeyhtiö) in Finland: Kansan osake. Suomalaisen asunto-osakeyhtiön vaiheet (2017). A great resource for understanding the conditions of urbanisation and the development of the welfare state. The Finnish housing company legislation enabled  groups of the Finnish population who didn’t own any property to establish themselves in the developing cities. This class of people were called “tilattomat” (the estateless), “loiset” (the parasites), “itselliset” (the self-makers), “mäkitupalaiset” (people with huts on hills) and “torpparit” (renter laborers).

The Finnish housing company legislation system differs from many modern countries. The rights of the housing company shareholders have been defined by laws passed in the 1920ties and some even earlier (Journalist/author Zachris Topelius wrote about the need for social housing in Helsinki). In comparison similar laws concerning housing cooperatives were been passed in France late 60ties. In the Finnish system shareholders don’t own their flats (the rooms they live in), they own a share of the housing company. All of the shareholders have a legally defined collective responsibility to upkeep the collectively owned property. This is why individual renovations and changes made to homes must be agreed upon by other shareholders.

In many other countries the collective will of the occupants is managed by homeowners’ associations – But joining the association is not mandatory. This is why it’s common that occupants fund their personal renovations but the shared 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 living in the countryside (2,6mil.) owned property and only 15% of people 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 urbanisation offered a structure to escape from the oppression of landowners or more specifically from the grip of the “talonpojat” class (Sons of the House). 1873 in Helsinki 200 occupants were found to be homeless (100 where children). In 1930 50% of the population got their income from farming related work!

Finnish housing companies where organised 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 “Hartiapankki” (Shoulderbank).

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 modernisation of work). People moving to the cities had to form their own joint-stock companies and carry risk collectively because Finland didn’t have enough capitalist interested in building rental flats. People often got organised by their trade (railway workers got collective loans to built homes for themselves).

The city could also serve as an investor in the companies, in which case occupants would pay off the city’s investment through their monthly housing company-payments (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 housing company buildings where built to be rented or sold (by different parties and ventures). In time laws were passed which made speculation more difficult.

As a result WWII bombings and the loss of land (10% of houses in Finland 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 the law facilitated the development a social housing programs for people who were touched by the war. Even people who didn’t have any assets were granted loans backed by the state.

The Arava-loan system offered very long loan payment times for housing company 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 behaviour 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 housing companies.

The housing crisis continued through 1960ties. The available capital was used for the needs of industrialisation. 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 the new houses which were organised as housing companies). Concrete became a popular material and building methods were modelled after car-assembly lines. The dimensions of construction tools and reach of tower cranes 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 housing company system, social life in new developing suburbs was relatively peaceful: Tenants were managed by their landlords (who were often their peers) 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 “poor-man’s Tapiola” due to it’s funding being gathered by a social housing associations. 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 1960 people were encouraged to save money and to buy homes in housing companies. Arava organisation 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 housing company 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 beginning of 1970 people moving into the city started to favour single-family detached homes (In 1988 70% of all new houses where single-family detached homes). 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! Loans were provided through international banks. The recession (1991-93) was the hardest in any European country after the war. People living in housing companies were relatively protected, they were allowed to only pay the interest of their mortgages.

A new crisis emerged as people realised that the poorly build blockhouses had to be renovated at some point. (In the 1980ties building companies were not concerned with renovation!) The reputation of the suburbs declined in the 1990ties and the occupants (now old pensioners) and couldn’t afford massive renovations. The government supported renovations but only occupants from well-off neighbourhoods managed to benefit from the support. Housing company building 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 housing company legislation was separated from general stock-company legislation and new regulations were passed concerning the right of stakeholders. According to the new law the housing company 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.