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Home* News and Stories → Longyearbyen: a great place to live, but a tough place to live

Longyearbyen: a great place to live, but a tough place to live

The times are currently mostly calm in Longyearbyen and Spitsbergen otherwise. There, is, of course, always something that catches public attention. The phaseout of coal mining in Sveagruva and the clearup of a whole little settlement is a discussion and will remain so for quite some time. Some buildings may be protected as part of Spitsbergen’s cultural heritage, others will probably be removed. The question of potential further use of the infrastracture in Sveagruave, within science, tourism or whatever, is still largely open. The only thing that is clear is that the whole project will cost a lot of money, just as opening the mine at Lunckefjellet, which has never seen anything but years of costly standby operations between opening and shutting down the mine.

Sveagruva

Sveagruva: a mining settlement in phaseout.

A woman in Longyearbyen is accused for having thrown a stone at a guest of Huset (a popular pub/disco/night club) during a late hour visit in March. The man received minor injuries.

A helicopter had to rescue to students from Sarkofagen, a mountain close to Longyearbyen. The two hikers had ventured into a steep slope and were unable to move any further or back.

Sarkofagen

The mountain Sarkofagen close to Longyearbyen.

Things that happen in a little arctic village after the end of the busy summer season, at the onset of the polar night. Most make themselves comfortable at home, taking care of normal everyday business and enjoying calm days as it is getting darker outside.

But not everybody can enjoy cosy evenings at home. The housing market in Longyearbyen has been difficult for years. There are several reasons for this, including avalanches which have rendered whole streets unsuitable for living in recent years. Airbnb is another issue, that makes some homes unavailable to long-term residents in need of housing. This has happened in many places in the world, but in Longyearbyen, you can’t just move to the next village somewhere near town and commute to work. At least, an important houseowner has recently announced that he does not want to rent flats out through Airbnb. Investor Fredrik Eken told Svalbardposten that his 84 flats in Longyearbyen will not be available on the mentioned platform for reasons economical rather than political or ethical.

Many flats and houses in Longyearbyen are owned by major institutions and employers such as the Sysselmannen, municipal administration, UNIS and others who need to offer housing to their employees, which is understandable but at the same time making a significant proportion of the local housing market unavailable to the public.

The local administration has done hers to make the situation more difficult, at least for some, than might be necessary. In Longyearbyen, there is a number of houses, most of them in “Sjøområdet” close to the fjord, which have flats. These flats are, however, not approved for permanent use, but rather for leisure use only. Some of these “leisure time flats” (fritidsbolig, as they are called in Norwegian) have, however, been used more or less permanently for years. In recent years, the local administration including the fire department have pushed to take more drastic measures to kick people out of these flats. Last week, representatives of the local administration and the fire department went on an unheralded control mission to some houses in question, as Svalbardposten reported. This led to 6 persons losing their accommodation on a short warning: they were given 24 hours to move out.

Sjøområdet, Longyearbyen

The area called “Sjøområdet” in Longyearbyen. Six people were recently removed from flats that are not approved for permanent use.

Reasons given for such rather drastic measures are mainly fire safety, followed by the missing approval for using the houses for permanent living in the use zoning plan.

It will not surprise that this approach is met by criticism and desparation amongst those concerned. Those who lived in these houses for years knew that their prolonged stay was not legal, but it was not a matter of choice for some at least. The private housing market does simply not provide affordable accommodation. Some of the 6 currently concerned will have to stay at friends’ places, becoming what is locally referred to as “sofa people”. Possibilities to find an affordable place to live in Longyearbyen on a long-term basis? Do hardly exist.

Considering this, the current approach of the municipal administration to remove people from flats that are at least approved for short-time use appears controversial. The administration has announced further controls as needed.

Fire safety can be taken care of by technical measures, and a use zoning plan is a matter of political decision making. The administration has at least announced to start a process that may include possibilities to legalize the practice.

Sounds extremely promising, doesn’t it? But it won’t help those who need a place to stay there and now. The polar night is coming, and Longyearbyen is a very dark and cold place during the winter.

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last modification: 2018-10-17 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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