Overcrowded: Housing Shortages as Hindrance to Economic Productivity


Outside of Sweden, people won’t likely know that the Swedish real estate market is a nightmare. I read the other day that right now, properties in Sweden’s cities, both the rental and sale market are at an all-time low, making scarcity of living space one of the biggest hindrances to economic productivity and growth for Sweden’s cities. This “bubble” has been written about for years – and the problem has just gotten worse. Some blame rent control (disincentivizing renting out properties) but the problem goes well beyond that. It is not really an open-market system, such as you find in the US or even Norway.

This would not be of the greatest concern to me, really, because I have a house in rural Sweden within commuting distance of Oslo, Norway, where I used to work.(Yeah, you know, I’m a real country girl.)

Trouble is, last year, I started a job in Gothenburg, Sweden. I knew that it would be difficult to find a flat for rent or purchase, but I did not anticipate the near-impossibility of it. The rental market is flat out a joke – there is nothing available. People luck into available flats or get on an eternally long waiting list or buy rental contracts on the black market. The purchase market, at least when I started planning the move, had a reasonable number of properties on the market – somewhat reasonably priced in terms of asking price, but most would end with a final price well above asking. I went through the viewing, bidding and disappointment process more times than I can count – and it finally became too exhausting. I was living in temporary housing all year (short-term apartments, hotels, etc.). At some point, I gave up.

I did not intend for this to become another article advocating for remote work, but in a roundabout way, that’s what it amounts to. The stress and strain of spending outsized amounts of time searching for a place to live that never materializes coupled with the stress and strain of living in temporary housing and learning a new job on top of it really got to me until finally when this year began, I knew I could not continue and had to renegotiate my work conditions.

I am not alone – but at least in my case, when the housing crunch became too untenable, I could make a play for remote work arrangements. Also, I already live in Sweden, so it is not as though I live halfway around the world (although that should not matter). But the idea that potential employees’ mobility is hampered, and that companies may not be able to hire the talent they want simply because they won’t be able to find a place to live is a serious impediment to economic development and growth and an inconvenience (or worse) to employers and employees.

Yet another compelling reason to look at virtual employment options.

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