Sigrún and Reinhold: A better world
The steelworker and the seamstress
"I was just your ordinary commie, a member of the Trotskyite Fylkingin, but gave in and attended a Humanist conference. The prelude was an article by me that appeared in the daily Þjóðviljinn where I addressed poverty. Subsequently, I received a call from Júlli in the Humanist Movement who wanted to me to give a talk at a Humanist conference. I'm just a steelworker, I said as an evasion technique. Júlli then asked me to come and read the newspaper article aloud. ” Reinhold remembers little of the conference, except there was a woman in the hall. He did not speak to the woman, nor did he speak at a subsequent Humanist meeting, he agreed to attend in the hope of seeing Sigrún again.
Sigrún recalls when they exchanged words for the first time. "We did an interview on State Channel Two, something about the conference. Channel Two had recently been established, I remember that Georg the technician was very cool with long hair in the basement in Efstaleiti and I got a ride home with you," she says.
"Yes, we talked for the first time in the car after the interview. I wasn’t interested in these ideals, I was just cheating my way into her world and did everything to be close to Sigrún, " Reinhold says rolling with laughter. "You were quite decent at strumming the guitar," Sigrún says and laughs. "I did everything, wrote and played songs for the movement and published a magazine, I prowled like a cat around Sigrún's home and took part in this new world she dreamed of making a reality."
Her ideals were the prelude to the love affair. "I wanted to make the world human," she says, and Reinhold fit into this world of ideals, so after a good run-up, they fell in love. They had a lot in common;young workers, idealists, single parents in the rental market; Sigrún in an apartment in Vogar with her daughter, Reinhold with his son in Breiðholt and a lease for three months at a time.
Back then, the rental market was, as it is now, a life of insecurity, especially for Reinhold. In that environment, buying real estate is almost a civic duty and the time came when Reinhold and Sigrún wanted to unite their families under one roof and buy an apartment.
The paupers in Ártúnsholt
In 1983, following the Nordic model, a workers' housing project, consisting of two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments in red roofed terraced houses and apartment buildings, was started in Ártúnsholt. Construction began after controversy in the city council over the size of the neighborhood and the number of apartments. Some city councilors recommended fewer apartments than 137, because so many paupers in one place would cause increased social problems. These comments were largely rejected and it was agreed to build all 137 apartments. Mayor Davíð Oddsson, then 37 years old, was present at a ceremony when the first two families received the keys to their new homes in 1985.
Sigrún and Reinhold had the opportunity to apply for a workers' housing apartment. Reinhold says neither of them enjoyed family wealth or had savings. "But we found some extra strength in us and we managed to overcome the obstacles. At first we were rejected and when I told my mates about it in the cafeteria at work I was told that I had to talk to the right people. According to Sigrún things were like this: "if you knew [union leader] Guðmundur Jaki you got an apartment."
"I think I talked to three high-ranking guys in the labor movement which eventually led to us being approved and getting promised an apartment. The neighborhood was still under construction and we bought the apartment six months prior to delivery. We had no money and I even had some debt on my back. But we made it," Reinhold says, as if describing something unbelievable.
Ten tough years
The price of a three-room apartment was three million, one hundred and eighty-one thousand ISK. Ten percent had to be paid upon signing the agreement. For some reason, a garage had to be paid in full upon signing, some two hundred and sixty-eight crowns. "We were so anxious to get our own place that we took the more expensive option and accepted an apartment with a garage, otherwise we would have had to wait another six months for an apartment without a garage. In total, we were paying 586 thousand and one hundred ISK with short-term loans or 17 percent of the total price. Then came the 43-year housing loan for the rest, a total of ISK 2,862,900," Reinhold says.
They had moved in when Gleðibankinn was Iceland's contribution to the Eurovision Song Contest. "I think the purchase was completed in 1985 and we moved in together in 1986. What really made the difference was that we did not pay off the mortgage for the first two years so we could focus on repaying the short-term loans," he adds.
For a while at least the young family had to struggle with paying installments instead of campaigning for a better world. "The first ten years were tough. In today's prices, a similar apartment would cost ISK 70 million and we would have had to raise some 12 million ISK. Of course, we didn´t buy any furniture and the car was a wreck I repaired at night to be able to use the next day. "
Reinhold worked at Stálsmiðjan at the time and Sigrún was in charge of a tailoring shop at Sjóklæðagerðin. "I loved my time in the tailoring room where we were made fishermen´s clothing. When Sjóklæðagerðin and 66 Degrees North merged, the tailoring room was moved to Latvia. ” Sigrún moved within the company, to the office where she still works today. "I’d go bananas if I was fired."
Pioneers in Ártúnsholt
"Of course, it was a great relief to finally get our own place. These houses are very well built, all the doors and fittings are still here, almost forty years later. Nothing has been done here! This is how a house should be built," Reinhold says. "In addition, a kindergarten and a school were built in the neighborhood, most of the families were young with children, some of the pioneers were moving within the labor housing system; there were hardly any buyers over forty here."
"I thought this little townhouse was awfully cute," Sigrún says. After the move to Álakvísl, the family expanded when a boy was born so storage space was converted into a fourth room. A permanent place was of course very important with regard to the children's well-being. The three children made many lifelong friends growing up in Ártúnsholt.
"A community was formed here entailing human relations and empathy. Once a year, everyone came out to sweep the streets and then a barbecue followed. We played with the children until bedtime, the someone brought out a bottle sometimes resulting in everybody getting pissed. The community changed when the workers' housing went on the market in 1999. People moved away and new people came in. The pioneer neighborhood spirit evaporated.”
"Now the children have left the nest, but we’re still here. Sigrún says: “It may sound boring, living in the same, working in the same place, but that does not necessarily mean that we are bored because of it. Fortunately, we never gambled with the property, which is perhaps why we have a very good life today."
Safe housing is a human right
Reinhold believes there is a lack of secure housing for middle-income people. "In recent years, real estate prices have risen. The price is just ridiculous. There is no restraint in this so-called free market. Demand exceeds supply and prices rise accordingly. Young families should not have to worry about where they sleep at night. A safe home is a human right and housing shouldn’t be profit driven. "If these basic needs are not met, people will suffer from psychological and mental health problems."
Sigrún agrees with him: "This time, I wholeheartedly agree with you, which isn’t always the case. Without clothes, food and housing you’re in a bad spot in Iceland - in fact anywhere in the world. It is the duty of society to fulfill these human rights.”
The end of workers' housing
In 1929, a bill was passed on the establishment of workers' housing; the first indication of a social housing system in Iceland. For 70 years, that system grew, mostly in the 1980s and 1990s, enabling low-income people to either buy or rent housing at a price they could afford. But the most important thing was the housing security the system ensured. In 1999 a coalition government under the leadership of 51 year-old Prime Minister Davíð Oddsson abolished the workers' housing system.