Experts propose new 10-point plan to solve housing crisis in Switzerland

Experts propose new 10-point plan to solve housing crisis in Switzerland

The Federal Council has confirmed that they will be meeting with top real estate companies to help iron out a plan to solve the housing crisis in Switzerland. Amid rising rental costs and shortages in major cities, real estate consultancy institute IAZI has revealed the 10 solutions that will likely be discussed at the meeting.

Housing firms to meet Swiss government on May 12

Speaking to Blick, the Federal Council confirmed that Economic Minister Guy Parmelin will host a round table meeting with real estate experts and representatives from the industry on May 12. At the gathering, the minister is expected to discuss how to solve the ongoing housing shortages in Switzerland - a recent study by Wüest Partner noted that the country will be short of 10.000 homes by the end of this year.

As real estate magnates prepare for the crunch meeting, the IAZI real estate institute has revealed its 10-point plan to solve the housing crisis, which it has submitted to the government. IAZI CEO Donato Scognamiglio told Blick that "we ourselves created the housing shortage… [it] is not a law of nature. It can be solved by a change of course.”

10 solutions to the Swiss housing crisis, according to IAZI

Here are the 10 points being proposed by IAZI designed to help solve the housing crisis in Switzerland:

1. Streamline the approvals process for new housing

First, the institute proposed that the government take steps to speed up the building application process for new houses and apartments in Switzerland. In the alpine nation, it takes an average of 140 days between submitting a planning application and actually obtaining the permit - much longer than in other European countries like Estonia, where it only takes 103 days on average.

2. Reducing the power of locals to object to new buildings

Along with making applications faster, experts argued that the public’s ability to reject housing projects should be limited to a strict, set timeframe and conditions. They made the point that responding to objections made by disgruntled neighbours - often called NIMBYs (not in my back yarders) - can take longer than the rest of the project combined.

3. Zones that allow for automatic planning approval

Then, instead of ruling on each project individually, the firm proposed a system of zoning that would streamline the planning process. In theory, a comprehensive system could see standard projects approved automatically instead of having to go through the vetting process.

4. Accommodation in commercial and industrial zones

Adding to the zoning plan, instead of the rigid housing, commercial and industrial zoning Switzerland has today, the agency floated the idea of allowing associations to build housing in all zones. According to Blick, IAZI took inspiration from housing in Japan, which has 12 types of building zone that all allow houses to be built.

5. Building high not wide in Swiss cities

For Swiss cities, the areas most affected by rising house prices, the company proposed increasing the number of floors on as many buildings as possible. IAZI argued that this will create more places to live without having to use any more land.

6. Renovate and upgrade housing

Along with building higher, experts called on the country to choose to renovate and upgrade older buildings instead of demolishing and rebuilding them. Blick explained that renovating is faster, involves less bureaucracy and is more socially accepted than having to approve a whole new building.

7. Convert Swiss offices into apartments

In one of their more avant-garde proposals, IAZI called for office buildings to be converted into places to live. As a large number of workers continue to do their jobs either remotely or with only a few days at the office, the institute argued that making these buildings into housing would be the most efficient use of space in the long term.

8. Having old people exchange large houses with the young

Sticking with more radical ideas, experts also said that people entering retirement should be able to "exchange" their larger houses with younger and growing families. IAZI noted that this policy could be achieved through a networking platform, where deals could be made personally rather than through real estate agents.

9. Generational housing 

If all other measures fail, IAZI argued that social forms of housing, like generations of families living together as part of an “Apartment for Life” or “Co-housing”, could save housing space. The theory is that as family members pass away, they will be replaced with new children, reducing the need for new housing and saving space.

10. Subsidising tenants, not new housing projects

Finally, IAZI argued that if construction firms, the government, real estate and housing agencies fail to reduce the cost of housing through new construction, the state should explore subsiding families to help them afford the most expensive apartments to rent.

Housing experts accept new plan with scepticism

In response to the IAZI plan, Christian Kraft, director of the Real Estate Competence Centre at the University of Lucerne, and David Kaufmann, assistant professor of urban policy at ETH in Zurich, told Blick that while the 10-point plan does highlight some of the main issues holding back new construction, it will be difficult to implement the ideas in Switzerland. For one, much of the approval and zoning process is controlled by each individual Swiss council (Gemeinde), making sweeping reform more challenging.

Kraft and Kaufmann noted that while social objections to housing and zoning laws are some of the main barriers to new construction, “it remains important that the public authorities have their say in major projects.” They concluded that while converting offices to houses, making use of “Apartments for Life”, Japanese-style zoning rules and subsidising tenants sound good on paper, most spark “endless debate” at best or have “no chance” of being approved at worst.

Thumb image credit: / Michael Derrer Fuchs

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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