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Helsinki houseboat owners frustrated by bureaucratic seawall

Despite years of discussion and studies, the Finnish capital is still one of the few world cities that forbids permanent residence on boats.

Nainen istuu sohvalla ja soittaa kitaraa.
Mervi Wennerstrand asuu Gibaltarilta Helsinkiin purjehditussa m/s Ettrickssa Helsingin Hietalahdenrannassa. Image: Yle

Many Finns spend much of their summer holidays on boats – and some dream of being able to live year-round afloat.

In Helsinki at least, that’s not possible. The Finnish capital is one of the few world cities that forbids permanent residence on boats.

In Mervi and Christian Wennerstrand’s comfortable living room in Helsinki’s Hietalahti district, a swinging chandelier is the only sign that it is on a houseboat. But the couple won’t be able to stay here long. Despite years of discussion, Helsinki still does not allow long-term residence afloat.

The Wennerstrands live on the m/s Ettrick, a former British Royal Marines patrol boat that boasts 80 square meters of space on two decks, and state-of-the-art waste and toilet systems.

They set up Asuntolaivurit, a houseboat owners association that has been lobbying city officials for a decade to allow year-round living on the water.

"This is normal in all the other countries in Europe. You can live on a boat in other places in Finland, but not in Helsinki,” Christian Wennerstrand told Yle’s Swedish-language news.

The problem, he says, “is these bureaucrats who lead these departments. There are four to seven different departments who don’t talk to each other; they just do their own things.”

13 docking areas pinpointed

Last year the city spent a considerable amount of money studying the question, and proposed 13 locations for houseboat communities. Since then, though, decision-making on the issue has been bounced around from one city department to another.

City architect Juha Pulkkinen, who carried out the study, admits that the project has gotten bogged down in the urban bureaucracy.

“The Real Estate Department has this on its agenda, but they have so much going on that they don’t have time or resources to move ahead with it,” says Pulkkinen.

According to Mervi Wennerstrand, "none of the officials have opposed the idea. They all say it should move forward. In our association’s last statement to the city government, we asked to be contacted by the people in the various departments who are responsible for this issue. We’ve never gotten any response, and this was back in March.”

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