Innovative Housing Policy Tools for Local Governments in Shrinking Communities with a Large Share of Privately Owned Apartments: A Case Study of Valga, Estonia

Jiri Tintera


Shrinking communities face a myriad num­ber of problems. The physical manifestation of urban shrinkage can best be noted in abandoned or underutilized properties, an oversupply or de­teriorating housing stock and inadequate aging infrastructure. These physical manifestations lead to psychological impacts of poor percep­tion of a community, lack of a sense of place, lethargic residents who lack the financial means or motivation to improve their living conditions. Planning for the regeneration and rightsizing of shrinking communities calls for intervention by government sectors. Valga is a small town in Estonia where housing vacancies, low quality of residential premises and the shortage of quality apartments are the result of decades of depop­ulation. As a result of housing privatization after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a large majori­ty of the dwellings are privately owned. Housing demolitions and revitalization are a key part of the small town’s strategy to deal with shrinkage. This paper addresses the question: in an area of urban shrinkage, what kind of housing policy can local government create in the conditions of prevailing private ownership of residential prem­ises?

Drawing on a qualitative case study of the town of Valga, the findings show that housing policy plays an important role in urban recovery for a shrinking community and the leadership ca­pacity of local government in this process is crit­ical. Ownership constrains in housing policy can be overcome but the lack of municipal finance and human resources together with insufficient legislation and missing cooperation with the pri­vate sector impedes the process.


ownership constrains; housing redevelopment; demolition; shrinking cities; urban brownfields; post-soviet country.

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