Finanspolitiska rådet kan inte hyresmarknaden

Finanspolitiska rådets senaste rapport innehåller mycket intressant och relevant material, men tyvärr visar det sig att rådet inte förstår sig på eller har tillräcklig kunskap om hyresmarknaden. Något som rådet tyvärr delar med flera nationalekonomer i Sverige, som t.ex. Assar Lindbeck.

Rådets okunnighet om hyresmarknaden i Sverige visar sig genom påståendet

”De hyror som svenska hushåll betalar enligt bruksvärdesystemet bestäms i en komplicerad process. Centrala förhandlingar mellan Hyresgästföreningen och Fastighetsägarförbundet sätter den allmänna nivån och den exakta hyran för en enskild lägenhet fastställs sedan lokalt….” En sådan central överenskommelse har aldrig träffats. Förhandlingarna är lokala.

Rådet lutar sig på en underlagsrapport som inte förstår att bostadsmarknaden skiljer sig fullständigt från varje annan marknad[1] utan påstår helt frankt

”The consequences of deregulating the market are large and multi-faceted. First, rents would of course increase for some dwellings, but they might fall for others. In Stockholm, the rent hikes would certainly outnumber the rent cuts.”[2]

Det finns inga lediga lägenheter I Stor-Stockholm. Ingen hyresvärd har någon anledning att sänka hyran i en uthyrd lägenhet. Tvärtom skulle många hyresgäster tvingas på grund av marknadshyrorna söka lägenheter med lägre hyror varför hyrorna även i ytterområdena skulle stiga kraftigt. Så fungerar det i verkligheten.

”Hyresrätten är därför mest attraktiv för yngre och för hushåll med lägre inkomst och förmögenhet. Det är dessa hushåll som idag drabbas av hyresregleringens avigsidor.” Men hur många av dessa skulle ha råd med de nya hyrorna? Det är ju tvärtom ett ökat utbud av bostäder med hyror som dessa grupper skulle kunna betala som krävs, eller hur?

Rådet berör t.ex. inte Boverkets slutsatser att det som främst behövs är hyresrätter som unga och andra hushåll med låga inkomster har råd med. Hur dessa ska kunna få sina behov tillgodosedda med de enorma hyreshöjningar som rådets marknadshyror skulle medföra är det ingen som förstår. Varför tar rådet inte upp detta problem?

Så här skriver man: ”En illa fungerande hyresmarknad tvingar många hushåll att äga sin bostad, även om ägandet ofta är förknippat med stora risker och transaktionskostnader, särskilt för unga hushåll.”

”Eftersom vi har kalibrerat vår modell mot rådande boendekostnader i bostadsrätt, avspeglar våra ”marknadshyror” den allmänna brist på bostäder som råder i dag. Med högre hyror skulle det bli mer attraktivt att bygga nytt, och när balansen mellan utbud och efterfrågan förbättrats kan marknadshyrorna förväntas sjunka tillbaka.

Borde inte dessa ekonomer studera vad som hänt i de länder som avreglerat sina hyresmarknader? Inte i något land har byggandet av hyresrätter ökat, tvärtom är det vanligaste att hyresmarknaden gått tillbaka.[3] I Norge som ibland brukar framhållas som ett föredöme med sin avreglerade hyresmarknad konstaterar OECD att där tar hyran högst andel av den disponibla inkomsten av alla länder inom OECD.[4]

Och varför skulle bostadsföretag vilja bygga nytt när de utan att anstränga sig kan öka sina intäkter enormt genom de stora hyreshöjningarna? Redan nu – på grund av de höga byggpriserna och de höga hyrorna i nybyggda bostäder är det en mindre del av de som skulle behöva en bostad som har råd med hyran i en nybyggd bostad.

Nå, men rådet menar ju att man skulle kunna höja bostadsbidragen genom ”En engångsbeskattning av fastighetsägarna skulle kunna bidra till att finansiera höjda bostadsbidrag”. Men de mycket höga marknadshyrorna finns ju kvar åren framöver. Hur ska en engångsbeskattning kunna betala höjda bostadsbidrag under de kommande åren?

”Samtidigt har det blivit allt svårare för nya hushåll att komma in på hyresmarknaden. Som ett resultat av bristande rörlighet på hyresmarknaden och olikhet i skatteregler har hyresrätter omvandlats till bostadsrätter i rask takt. Exempelvis har antalet hyreslägenheter i Stockholm minskat med 80 000 sedan millennieskiftet och antalet lägenheter som förmedlats genom bostadsförmedlingen mer än halverats mellan 2005 och 2016.”

Rådet tycker inte att det är värt att nämna att en stor del av denna omvandling har varit politiskt styrd och ingen automatisk utveckling. Genom politiska beslut har de som för tillfället bodde i äldre allmännyttiga, kommunägda fastigheter med lägre hyror än i nybyggda kunnat köpa dem till priser långt under marknadspriserna för bostadsrätter och kunnat tjäna stora pengar. I Uppsala, däremot, sade den moderata ordföranden i styrelsen för Uppsalahem att det gick att köpa loss allmännyttiga fastigheter, men då fick man betala marknadspriser. Där blev det därför inga omvandlingar.

Den svenska hyreslagstiftningen, bruksvärdesystemet och traditionen med förhandlingar för att lösa tvister ska naturligtvis bevaras. Men inget system är perfekt. Det pågår arbete med att se över hyressättningen i Stockholm, vilket det finns goda skäl till. Men det ska ske på ett sådant sätt att hyresgästernas besittningsskydd garanteras. Bruksvärdesystemet är ju just till för att hyresvärdar inte ska kunna utnyttja bostadsbrist för att driva upp hyrorna. Vilket, enligt rådet, är det stora felet med den nuvarande lagstiftningen!

Rådet har inte tagit del av fakta hur det ser ut på Stockholms bostadsmarknad. Hyresrätterna har ett bättre utnyttjande än bostadsrätter (flera boende per lägenhet i samma storlek), andelen hyresgäster med extrem trångboddhet är högre än för dem i bostadsrätt, andelen med extrem hög utrymmesstandard är högre i bostadsrätten än i hyresrätten och i varje stadsdel är medianinkomsten för vuxna i bostadsrätt betydligt högre än för dem i hyresrätt. Siffrorna är från SCB.

I Göteborg har 15 procent av hyresgästhushållen i bostäder som är på gång att byggas om en disponibel inkomst under skälig levnadsnivå att leva på när de har betalt sina hyror redan innan någon hyra höjts. I Göteborg är det också stor bostadsbrist, varför hyrorna skulle drivas upp kraftigt där. Är det en ansvarsfull bostadspolitik som rådet förespråkar?

[1] Arnott R. (1987) Economic theory and housing in Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, Volume 2, Urban Economics, Editor Edwin S. Mills, North-Holland, Elsevier B.V. p. 960.

[2] Herman Donner, Peter Englund and Mats Persson (2017), Distributional Effects of Deregulating the Stockholm Rental Housing Market.

[3] Whitehead, C., Monk, S., Markkanen, S. and Scanlon, K. (2012) The Private Rented Sector in the New Century: A Comparative Approach, Copenhagen: Realdania; Forsberg F, Ã…sell M (2000) What can we learn from countries that liberalized its rental market? – A study in Finland, Spain, and Great Britain? Department of Building and Real Estate, Department of Real Estate and Construction, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm. Degree No. 96; Nordgren K, Sergo T (2001) Housing Construction- A comparison of the influencing factors in Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki and Copenhagen,  Department of Infrastructure, Construction and Real Estate Management, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Thesis No.: 131/2001; Rolnik R (2013) The  right to adequate housing, Report to the General Assembly A/68/289, pp. 9 and 14

[4] http://www.oecd.org/els/family/HC1-2-Housing-costs-over-income.pdf p. 1

The EU Commission and economic theory – a sad thing

The housing market has never been and could never become a market with perfect competition. No one of the conditions for perfect competition would be attained. So instead of thinking that neo-classical economic theory could give any solutions we have to do empirical research, to look at the facts of the real world.

But the European Commission, at least its Staff, seems to embrace this theory. I will here give an example. In the country report the Commission Staff writes this about Sweden:

“Market inefficiencies are primarily attributed to the high level of rent control. Sweden is characterized by the highest levels of rent control among EU Member States.

Rent levels are negotiated between the Swedish Union of Tenants (Hyresgästföreningen) and the housing companies. Rental prices are based on a rent valuation model based on a set of characteristics defined as the so-called ‘utility value’ of any given dwelling. These characteristics include factors such as the standard, services offered and the condition of the dwelling, but location is only taken into account to a very limited extent.”[1]

As one of the authors of a rent-setting handbook in Sweden (in which location is one of the main factors that will influence the rents according to the residents’ valuation) and researcher of the rental market in Sweden I must correct the Commission about the influence of the location factor. In most major cities in Sweden the location strongly affects the rents. The rents are always higher in attractive areas than in less attractive ones if you compare apartments with the same standard and size. But landlords sometimes argue that it is not enough. What is right or wrong is a matter of opinion. If the parties cannot reach an agreement then the rent tribunal has to decide.

One important feature of the Swedish rent law is security of tenure. That means that shortage of housing is not allowed to lead to rents that jeopardize the security of tenure.[2] So when there is increasing shortage due to too low housing construction, the rents in the existing stock do not increase and are held below the so called market level. But newly built rental dwellings have rents which are the highest that the landlords could charge if they will have new tenants in them (market rents). But many households that want housing cannot afford the rents in newly built dwellings or pay the price for owner-occupied housing. According to surveys it is a large shortage of rented dwellings (in 85 percent of all municipalities) that young households[3] and other low-income households including immigrants can afford. So market rents are not a solution.

In spite of that the same report says:

“The growing difference between actual and market rents triggers excessive demand for rental units and creates a lock-in effect. Existing tenants would not want to give up their favourable conditions for renting the apartment below market prices while new entrants cannot access rental apartments. Students, young and low-income households cannot access cheap, entry-level housing thereby negatively affecting labour mobility, as well as having important social implications.”[4]

The conclusion of the report is that higher rents after deregulation would give easier access to cheap rental dwellings! If the rents rise to the market level where could these households find the cheap apartments?

”Reforming the rent price setting procedure in order to allow wider divergence of rental prices, for instance by considering location and rental prices for private and/or newly built apartment rental prices would allow to close somewhat the gap between market prices and existing rental prices in urban areas and/or could allow cheaper rental prices in less attractive areas.”[5]

If it would be possible to raise the rents more in attractive areas why would the rents decrease in other areas? There is a tremendous shortage of rental dwellings in all metropolitan areas in Sweden. Every apartment is already leased. Why should the landlords then lower their rents anywhere? In fact a deregulation would cause increased rents everywhere, force people to move, increase the demand for housing in less attractive areas because many households then have to move out from their present apartments where the rents will be much higher, and cause growing social problems and even homelessness.

Maybe someone might say that market rents would increase the construction of new rental housing. But it has not happened in countries where they have deregulated the rental market.[6] “A well-regulated rental market can promote the goals of protecting tenants, particularly low income, and encouraging rental housing simultaneously. On the other hand, the elimination of rent controls and the easing of eviction procedures have rarely led to more investment in the rental market but have actually skewed the market in the direction of homeownership.”[7]

The Commission cites a report, with a very theoretical approach:

“Inefficient use of the existing rental units also contribute to the supply side constraints of housing and could result in significant welfare loss primarily in the urban areas and an undersupply of 40 000 rental units has been accumulated in the country – out of which 27 000 in Stockholm.”[8]

A recent study of housing conditions in Stockholm based on data from Statistics Sweden[9] shows that the rate of utilization or housing density (number of inhabitants per apartment of a certain size) is higher in rented apartments than in condominiums (tenant-owned apartments).[10] The rental units are more efficiently used than the other form of tenure with market pricing, which contradicts the thesis from the Commission. The study also showed that the incomes of tenants are much lower than for those in all kinds of owned housing in every part of Stockholm even in the most attractive areas. The outcome is also a sign of the positive effect on economical segregation of the Swedish system.

The alleged welfare loss has no empirical evidence. The shortage of rental dwellings is caused by many factors. To use that kind of neo-classical economic theory for analysis of welfare should be outdated.

In economic works the word demand has a special meaning. But I can need and demand (in ordinary language) a decent dwelling without having any money. And even poor people must have somewhere to live. Demand-driven construction of housing on an unregulated market will not create housing for everyone. The willingness to pay of those who have the ability to pay will be focus for the developers. Welfare analysis must be based on a broader and more adequate social theory.

It seems that the Commission’s main objection towards the Swedish model is that most of the rents are determined after negotiations between tenant unions and landlords, almost in the same way as the wages are determined after negotiations between trade unions and employers on the labour market. [11]

It is a typical neo-classical objection that prices/wages/rents should be a result of a free competition even between tenants or workers. Trade or tenant unions that represent collectives and negotiate and reach agreements on wages or rents disturb this ideal. But it is important for the welfare of the people.

In a critical comment to the EU Commission writings about the Swedish system Housing Europe writes:

“Firstly, it does not recognise the specificity of the Swedish housing system, which is rather different to other countries and has shown itself to work well over different economic cycles. The CRS does not justify its belief that getting rid of the rent setting system will solve any issues with the housing supply or prevent significant additional problems for tenants, including evictions and forms of homelessness.”[12]

And the private housing companies do not suffer. According to IPD (Investment Property Databank) is the annual total return of housing the last ten years until December 31, 2014 higher than9 percent  in Sweden.

An interesting work criticizes the neo-classical approach that still is so common among economists today:

“Economists long have recognized that the prerequisites of perfect competition may never be satisfied, and – most important – that when even one of them is missing, the benefits of perfect competition may not be available. The point has been highlighted by an often-cited, masterful article by Lipsey and Lancaster[13]. They posit that the ability of a market to achieve perfect competition is dependent upon its meeting all of the conditions of the Paretian optimum. And they add: ‘It is well known that the attainment of a Paretian optimum requires the simultaneous fulfilment of the optimum conditions.’[14]

Lipsey and Lancaster also indicate that if one of the conditions cannot be met, ‘the other Paretian conditions, although still attainable, are in general, no longer desirable.’ (Ibid.) A different pattern or model is then necessary. It follows that when an economy moves toward perfect competition, say as a result of the deregulation of one industry, one cannot assume that such a step will yield some of the benefits of perfect competition. Competition is either perfect or is not; like pregnancy, it cannot be had in degrees.”[15]

Housing policy in Sweden during the last eight years is extreme in an international comparison. After 2006 the subsidies to owned housing have increased a lot, and completely disappeared for rental housing. Property tax has been reduced even more in metropolitan areas, which in turn has led to significant price increases. These are important reasons (but not the only) that the differences in rents between newly built and older rental dwellings have increased. Other factors are bad competition among developers, a slow planning process, etc.

Is the housing shortage a situation where people cannot obtain housing that responds to their needs? Or is it the demand, how much people are willing to pay, to be the meter, according to some economists, who dislike the concept of need. It is the households overall willingness to pay that expresses demand and therefore the need. The need no one could pay for does not exist, they say. [16] One easy solution then is to raise the prices and the rents to cut the housing shortage. Higher prices mean less demand.

But revenues are distributed unevenly. People may have a need, but lack the money to match other people’s demand. To avoid to enter on this discussion these economists usually assume that the distribution of resources in society is ”the collectively desired” [17] or politically decided.

Of course the price setting on a market depends on demand and supply in economic terms. Welfare analysis on the other hand must be based on the welfare of households. A distribution of housing, which means that households with large economic resources always can trump households with fewer economic resources, cannot provide maximum welfare.

The economic language is full of concepts that could have other meanings in a daily use. Demand is an example. Description of poor or low-income households as “market failures” is another example. But have they really failed? Or is their economic situation due mainly to a failing policy by the government?

Maybe you might regard this text to be extremely exaggerated that argues against a theory that almost nobody uses. But even clever economists still fall back at least partly on this outdated theory when they try to analyze markets which they do not have a deep knowledge of. The European Commission’s Staff’s critique of the rental market in Sweden is an example.

One can sometimes hear that there is a housing market that is working well and that includes owned housing and condominiums. The rental market has rent-regulation with queues as a result. Rent regulation is seen as the main cause why so few rental properties are constructed. But if the market for condominiums and owner-occupied housing works so well, then it should be able to satisfy the need for housing, especially as the prices of owner-occupied homes and condominiums for many years has increased substantially, which should have stimulated a sharp increase in housing construction according to this economic theory. But it did not happen. Then there must be something wrong about the theory.

Housing and housing markets are very complex issues. There is no quick-fix. Both regulatory and market mechanisms are needed.

[1] European Commission:  Commission staff working document: Country Report Sweden 2015 (COM 2015 final) p.21

[2] In many countries there are regulations of the rents for sitting tenants. See for instance Haffner M., Elsinga  M. and Hoekstra  J (2007)

[3] Boverket: Bostadsmarknaden 2013-2014 pp. 20-22

[4] European Commission. p. 21

[5] Ibid. p. 22

[6] Whitehead, C., Monk, S., Markkanen, S. and Scanlon, K. (2012) , Forsberg F, Åsell M (2000)

Nordgren K, Sergo T (2001) , Raquel Rolnick (2013)

[7] Raguel Rolnik (2013). p. 14

[8] European Commission, p.22

[9] Bergenstråhle S., Palmstierna  P. (2014)

[10] Rental and tenant-owned dwellings are found mainly in multifamily housing and owner-occupied dwellings in single-family homes.

[11] de Boer, R. and R. Bitetti (2014),  p. 22

[12] Pittini A, Ghekière L, Dijol J, Kiss I (2015) The  State of Housing in the EU 2015, Housing Europe, Brussels, p. 95

[13] Lipsey R., Lancaster  K.(1956)  ” pp.11-32

[14] These conditions could be described as follows: The largest firm in any given industry is to make no more     than a small fraction of the industry’s sales (or purchases). The firms are to act independently of one another. Actors have complete knowledge of offers to buy or sell. The commodity (sold and bought in the market) is divisible, and the resources are movable among users.

[15] Etzioni, Amitai (1988) pp. 200-201

[16] See for instance Meyersson P-M, Ståhl I, Wickman K (1990)

[17] See for instance. SPK (1987:2) p… 84