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A city of tenants: what can the UK learn from Vienna?

"There is no other city in Europe that has such continuity in its affordable housing policy and we have not given up, even when the spirit of the times demanded a more neo-liberalistic approach and privatization."

A city of tenants: what can the UK learn from Vienna?

The City of Vienna is widely recognised as a global leader in social housing policy. Over 50% of its residents live in affordable and high-quality rented accommodation. Rents are regulated and tenants’ rights are strongly protected. Social housing is aimed at both people on low incomes and a broad middle class. Vienna also continuously ranks as the world’s number one city for quality of life.

Ahead of speaking at HOMES UK, we interviewed Christian Schantl, head of international relations at Wien Wohner (or Vienna Community Housing) on their unique approach to affordable housing policy.


Tell us about your approach to affordable and social housing in Vienna and why it is unique.

The international comparison confirms the uniqueness of Vienna based on its high quality of living and housing as well as on its social diversity. A key contribution towards this goal is made by a social housing policy that defines housing as a service of general interest. Vienna’s strength lies in the consistency of its housing policy, which is also reflected in the city’s housing market. Around 45% of the housing market is composed of subsidized and municipal housing. This segment characterised by affordable rents is home to more than 50% of Vienna’s population.


Why has the City considered it so important to invest in social housing? How have you maintained that focus even during periods of financial pressure?


We see housing – as well as other services for the public like the public transport system, the water supply or the waste management – as a basic human right. That is why Vienna invests each year about £350 million in housing construction and restoration of older buildings. Another £90 million is distributed to individuals who are unable to afford even subsidized rents.


We try our best to prevent gentrification and ensure a stable social mix in the city in general and also within every individual apartment complex. This is the best guarantee for good and peaceful neighbourly relations. You will not, therefore, find any “no-go” areas or ghettos in our city. This is only possible because we provide the middle classes with access to affordable housing where we have a net rent of £5-6 per square metre. This is the reason why we have higher income limits for the allocation of city-owned and subsidized apartments. With this strategy, we prevent socially vulnerable groups from living exclusively in certain neighborhoods.


There is no other city in Europe that has such continuity in its affordable housing policy and we have not given up even when the spirit of the times demanded a more neo-liberalistic approach and privatization. The city is committed to its affordable housing building and, in contrast to many other cities, never considered selling this municipal property. The great offer of subsidized apartments has a price-dampening effect on the entire residential market of the city.

In Vienna, you cannot tell how much someone earns by where they live. There is no stigma associated with social housing like there is in the UK. How have you been able to create such successfully integrated communities over time?


Traditionally, Vienna has never defined the concept of “social” as deficit-oriented, with associations of poverty or indigence, but rather has preferred to focus on aspects of community and social exchange. This approach permeates all strategic development programmes of the Austrian capital, from the early days in the 1920s up to the nowadays Smart City Strategy and the Urban Development Plan. Today, more than 50 percent of all Viennese live in subsidized apartments – either in one of the 220,000 municipal housing apartments or in one of the 200,000 cooperative apartments built with city subsidies.


Why should people come and hear you speak at HOMES UK in November? How can Vienna’s example help the UK to tackle its affordable housing crisis?


We do not think that the Viennese model of affordable housing is the only successful way and we do not want to convince anybody, but we are grateful to share our experiences. Besides the positive impact of a consistent housing policy, investment in housing construction and housing renewal has other major impacts:


• It gives social security and financial predictability through tenancy agreements of unlimited duration and affordable rents
• It supports social cohesion through communal areas as well as facilities and initiatives which promote a sense of neighbourhood
• It increases quality of life, a reduction in energy consumption as well as upgrading older districts through subsidized regeneration projects
• It creates and secures thousands of jobs
• It is the basis for a good social mix throughout the city
• It prevents segregation due to the “gentle urban renewal” programme. Rents are capped for a 15-year period.
• It also prevents price surges – rents develop only in line with the consumer price index
• Finally, with environmentally sensitive construction methods, we create a healthy living environment


So the mix of various measures, from guaranteeing a social mix, the fight against speculation and gentrification, the creation of thousands of jobs as well as the upgrading of neighborhoods and better preconditions for smooth living and working together in the city – all these are key effects of the social housing sector in Vienna.

What ambitious plans do you have for the future of housing in Vienna?


As a city that is renowned for its superlative quality of life and a centenary tradition of social housing construction, Vienna has opted to place the issue of housing at the centre of the International Building Exhibition 2022.


The goal is to exploit the resulting momentum, to test further innovative developments in the field of housing for both Vienna itself and for other cities and urban agglomerations, and to render these solutions practicable for the future.


Christian Schantl will be speaking alongside Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter on “How do we tackle the affordable housing crisis?” at HOMES UK on 27 November at 12:45-13:30 in ExCeL, London.


Register your free* place to attend now!


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