Urban Alternatives is launched by a collaboration of different actors which are united in their efforts to create a more democratic, just and sustainable world. This map seeks to highlight initiatives that work towards this goal. Proposal for initiatives not listed yet can be made directly on the website. This process is open to new collaborations.



Inclusive Housing & Public Space

What challenges did this initiative look to address?

At the end of the 1980s the housing situation for young people in Helsinki was grim. It was the peak period of the business boom in Finland’s capital. The search for reasonably priced rental apartments was fruitless. At the same time the city was full of empty buildings waiting for their market values to rise. In this context, a group of young people decided that straightforward action was necessary to improve their desperate situation – if apartments weren’t otherwise available, they should be taken through squatting.

Non-violence and the avoidance of private property were the main principles of the squatters. Buildings owned by the government, the municipality, as well as by large building contractor companies, who were waiting for rents to rise, were considered as fair game. The group started to call themselves Oranssi, which stands for the colour orange in Finnish; it was chosen because the colour is not affiliated with any political party. The squats usually didn’t hold for long, but they allowed the activists to reach a position where negotiating with the local authorities was possible.

What has changed?

After the successful renovation of these first houses, negotiations and co-operation with the Helsinki city authorities became a lot easier. Over the years, the activity has expanded in fruitful cooperation with the City of Helsinki. The city has first rented out and later sold properties and the young people of Orange have refurbished protected wooden houses for their own rental housing. Oranssi Apartments started with just three houses, but since then the number of houses has grown so that Oranssi now has 74 flats located in 13 houses, with 130 residents in total.

In the course of more than 25 years, Oranssi has transformed from an active social movement to a well-established non-profit organisation that works in a close and mutually beneficial partnership with the city. Today Oranssi’s focus is more in maintaining and administering the buildings, rather than in fighting publicly for its cause. But, as the cultural centre is still only partially operating, and the need for youth apartments is more pressing than ever, there is still a lot more work to do.

How did it happen?

The key concept behind Oranssi is participation of residents in planning, renovation and practical maintenance. The aim is to encourage and support young people to find their independence by providing lowcost housing and creating steady, lively and socially united housing communities.

Oranssi was registered as an association in the beginning of 1990 so that it would be easier to administer any spaces acquired by the group. Further, the city of Helsinki would not have made any lease contracts with an unorganised group of people. After long negotiations, the city council decided to allow Oranssi to rent old wooden houses that were planned to be demolished. The idea was to renovate the buildings independently and to live in them upon completion. The founding members decided to establish an independent housing company in order to finance and manage the project. In 1991 Oranssi Apartments Ltd. was founded by Oranssi Association, which still remains the company’s sole owner.

Most of the houses have been bought by Oranssi Apartments. Oranssi was able to negotiate the prices of the houses with the city so that in the end they paid just a fraction of the market prices. Oranssi received some grants towards the preservation of historic buildings, however, most of Oranssi’s income comes from the rents paid by the residents. The rates of Oranssi’s apartment rents are about 10€/m2/month, which is very affordable for Helsinki standards. Usual rents at similar sized private market apartments in the same neighbourhoods usually start from 18€/m2.

Oranssi offers housing to young people that have a low income and an acute need for an apartment. The residents take care of the buildings and participate in the renovations with the help of Oranssi’s paid workers. The strategy of participatory renovations and deliberately choosing slightly lower housing standards than what is customary allows Oranssi to refurbish the flats at a much level much lower than market rates. The new residents have to be younger than 25 years of age when they move in, but the time of residency is not limited, so they can stay at Oranssi as long as they want.

oranssiasunnotOver the years, Oranssi has had several cultural spaces that were rented from the city, but which all ended up being demolished by the city. Finally in 2008, Oranssi got a 30-year lease for its current cultural centre, and started refurbishing the building, applying its principle of participatory renovation. Operating the cultural centre is supported by the city of Helsinki. The purpose of the cultural centre is to facilitate groups and projects that would otherwise have difficulty in finding a space.