Global Climate action and sustainable development, Housing and planning, Welfare and equalities

What’s the real bottom line? sustainability in housing profitability


A few members of the LGIU team are in Malmö for the ICLEI congress. We’ve been hearing some inspirational stories about how local governments are building sustainability into their objectives and making practical progress on addressing climate change alongside improving the quality of life for their local residents and the bottom line on the ledger.

Just one of the approaches that really inspired me was the work of the MKB. This is the housing company owned by the city of Malmö. It works on commercial principles, but they build environmental and social objectives into their economic modelling. At the conference they highlighted three areas of their work.

courtesy MKB



First a bit of background on MKB. According to Rebecca Lewis a planning academic currently on sabbatical here and an MKB tenant:



Changes in legislation in around 2010 meant that housing associations like MKB have to run on a commercial footing. However, they take a long range view on profitability and economic viability. They believe that pro-social and environmental programmes do contribute to their financial bottom line and that they have the numbers to prove it.

Homework clubs:

For teen students who are at the end of their ‘primary’ education (so around 15 or 16) they run homework clubs that have employed tutors – many of them university students. Providing good study habits and support helps kids achieve better course marks and improves employability of tenants’ children – leading to more economically and educationally successful students.

Teens who complete the homework programme are able to apply for paid summer jobs with MKB supporting maintenance teams. In the summer of 2022 they plan to offer around 500 places.

Key takeaways:

  • The most successful tutors are university students who come from the neighbourhoods themselves.
  • Long range impact is being assessed by academic partners at the local university.

Bike schools:

MKB staff Jonas Stark, Maria Tengroth Mandin and Jenny Holmquist talked about how their bike school started. Malmo is a very cycle friendly city and MKB wanted to expand access to their tenants through bike pools and cycle parking. As a team they were talking about how they could do that when someone asked the question: “What if you don’t know how to ride a bike?”  It turns out that many new Swedish residents, particularly women, had never had the opportunity to learn how to ride a bike. And so the bike school was started.  Courses run in different places in the city and have given many of their bike school graduates a new found freedom, equality and economic opportunity. For example, without the ability to ride a bike work opportunities like care were unavailable, because home care workers travel between appointments by bike.

Key takeaways:

  • As a housing developer, they have to meet requirements for parking spaces. Developing bike places and more cycling residents has allowed them to argue successfully for flexibility in the requirement which has saved them money.
  • Supporting mobility for their tenants has helped with income and security which can lead to longer term tenancies and more stable and vibrant neighbourhoods.
courtesy MKB

Tree planting:

You might not think of Sweden as a hot country, and I was certainly surprised to see advertisements for cooling equipment to beat the heat on Swedish tv. (Our latest Global Local edition was all about extreme heat). But many places are now experiencing extreme weather, including heat and high precipitation. Trees are proven help with cooling urban neighbourhoods and for dealing with urban runoff which mitigates pluvial flood risk. MKB is investing in large scale tree planting.

Key takeaways:

  • The bigger the better, when it comes to the impact of trees. But it’s not always about size. MKB offers support for urban food growing and even has beekeeping on the roofs of some of its developments run by tenants.
  • Deciding and doing with tenants. Getting residents to decide which trees will be planted and getting residents including children helps keep people invested in the trees, keeping them healthy and growing.

Next week we’ll be sharing more from the conference in our Global Local newsletter.


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