Clear changes in migration in the Helsinki region during the pandemic

MDI carried out a review of ongoing changes in migration and housing preferences in the Helsinki region during the Covid-19 pandemic. The purpose of the review is to support regional planning on land-use, housing and transport. The study compared the region’s migration statistics from the pandemic years to those of the previous decade. Migration was examined both municipality-by-municipality and in relation to smaller statistical areas. In addition, the report compiled extensive material on the development of the housing market as well as on other information related to housing and housing choices. The report provides a set of recommendations for the development of the region’s housing policy.

Kaupungin siluetti

Finland and especially the Helsinki region have urbanised rapidly in recent decades with the popularity of urban living clearly growing across the region. The COVID-19 pandemic however changed the public discourse on housing and migration. New housing needs and solutions were discussed in relation to remote work and to changes to past choices and opportunities. Regional planning on land-use, housing and transport requires information on the changing situation for the preparation of the MAL2023 plan. Commissioned by the city of Helsinki, MDI carried out a study on housing markets, housing preferences and migration during the pandemic years, as compared to the previous decade. The migration analysis was backed up and supported by extensive data analysis related to housing market developments and different housing choices and preferences. The multitude of different individual housing preferences were not however in the scope of the study which instead focused on actual housing choices and, for example, on the expressed values and wishes of people on housing.

Changes in the housing market and migration

The report shows how the changes in migration have been significant in the Helsinki region. The municipalities of the capital region which, during the previous decade, showed strong gains in immigration, have now lost population due to a clear increase in emigration. Migration in the Helsinki region is gradual: people move from Helsinki to other municipalities in the capital region, from the capital region to KUUMA-municipalities and further to the rest of Finland. The changes are not due to students who have moved to the region as usual. Instead, emigration is focused on young adults and families with children and especially on well-off specialists. During the pandemic, migration flows of those on lower incomes have almost completely stopped. Migration is however concentrated in the residential areas of the lowest income quartile, raising further concerns about the acceleration of segregation in the region.

Demand for detached housing in the Helsinki region started to increase some months before the outbreak of the pandemic. It peaked during 2020 and has since somewhat levelled off. The years 2020 and 2021 have been record-breaking when it comes to sales in the housing market and despite the strong demand for detached housing, central locations in the city have nevertheless remained attractive. Record housing production also explains strong sales numbers. There are however differences in the trajectories of sales prices and rents. While prices have increased substantially in all major cities in Finland during the pandemic, the increase in rents has slowed and indeed temporarily at least decreased. The regional polarisation of rental housing and owner-occupied housing has gained momentum during the pandemic.

The study also notes how certain important valuation metrics related to housing have undergone slight changes. Appreciation of open space, green areas, closeness to nature and, for example, single-family housing have grown in popularity. Moreover, demand for and need of local services also increased as life was temporarily localised into tightly defined residential areas based on the pandemic restrictions. It remains however difficult to determine just how permanent these changes will be. In general, residents in the Helsinki region – across all municipalities – are satisfied with their proximity to nature. Nevertheless, it is noticeable how the desire and willingness to move has increased, especially among those who had previously compromised their housing square metres at the expense of housing location. Changed housing aspirations and needs and, for example, increased remote work can have long-term effects on housing choices. Square metres per resident have turned to a significant increase in almost all municipalities of the region.

The attractiveness of housing and locations must be prioritised in the Helsinki region

The study provides a wide range of recommendations for the development of the region’s housing policy. It is however important not to engage in presumptive analyses of the development of the housing market based on exceptional times. The policy of infill construction must be continued while it is also clear that there is no need for major changes in housing policy more generally. The potential demand for and increase of the dispersion of urban structures must however be constantly monitored and prevented. The attractiveness of housing stock and locations must be significantly developed and more solutions must be introduced, particularly when it comes to housing supply for young adults and families with children. Although the available square metres per resident are increasing, there will also be continuing demand for small apartments in the future and housing supply in central locations should be continued. The need for additional space can be taken into account also in the floor plans and architecture. A significant effort should therefore be made to prevent segregation and the housing situation of those in a weaker position should be constantly monitored. In addition, it is also recommended that more investment be made in the quality of living environments and green areas in all municipalities.


The report available in Finnish

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