How Vienna took the stigma out of social housing

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Florian Kögler, 21, has one thing most individuals might solely dream about: A rent-controlled residence in a European capital.

For a month-to-month hire of round €330, Kögler lives in a 33-square-meter, one-bedroom residence in a Nineteen Thirties public housing constructing in Vienna’s Favoriten district, simply south of town’s historic middle.

An inside courtyard means the residence is crammed with gentle, mentioned Kögler, and a close-by metro cease takes him into town middle in lower than 20 minutes. His rental settlement has no expiration date, that means a landlord can’t kick him out or hike up his hire.

“I probably won’t stay here my whole life because while one room is enough for myself, it won’t be if I have a family, but that’s really the only reason I would want to move out,” he mentioned.

Kögler’s state of affairs is just not distinctive in Vienna, the place social housing is just not solely for the poor: More than 60 % of town’s 1.8 million inhabitants dwell in sponsored housing and almost half of the housing market is made up of city-owned flats or cooperative residences. 

“Social housing policies in Vienna have been shaped by the political commitment that housing is a basic right,” Deputy Mayor Kathrin Gaal advised POLITICO, including that town’s mission had been made less complicated due to its dedication to maintain the huge inventory of sponsored properties constructed throughout the previous century in public arms.

“We insisted on not privatizing social housing in the 1980s and 90s, when other cities were selling their municipal housing projects,” mentioned Gaal. “Today, more than ever, we can see that this strategy has been successful: Once the apartments are gone, the city has only a small lever to regulate rents.”

The success of Vienna’s system isn’t solely based mostly on the dimensions of the constructing inventory and the diminished rents, however the fantastic thing about the buildings. The properties are enticing sufficient to make them a draw for the center class, an element that has helped stop the estates from turning into social ghettos.

City residents’ entry to high quality, reasonably priced housing has helped vault Vienna to the highest of the world’s most liveable cities, and made it a mannequin to be emulated throughout the bloc.

With enticing structure and spacious, inexperienced courtyards, Vienna’s century-old public housing stays common. Today greater than 60 % of town’s 1.8 million inhabitants dwell in city-owned flats or cooperative residences.

In locations like Lyon, Barcelona and Lisbon municipal leaders are adopting parts of the Viennese mannequin to take away the stigma surrounding social housing initiatives, mentioned Giordana Ferri, govt director of the Milan-based Fondazione Housing Sociale.

“I’m very grateful for my flat,” mentioned Kögler. “I also take it for granted: Here in Vienna our social housing system is a normal thing for so many people that you forget that it’s actually quite special.”

Radical Vienna

The success of Vienna’s public housing system is sure up with town’s distinctive historical past — and a long time of relative political stability.

The Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) gained its first election in Vienna in 1919, after the top of World War I and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Aside from the interval when it was suspended beneath fascism within the Nineteen Thirties till the top of World War II, the celebration has ruled town ever since.

The SPÖ made housing its No. 1 precedence throughout the so-called Red Vienna interval, which lasted till 1934, and centered its efforts on securing high quality properties for the 1000’s of business employees and refugees that had been dwelling in slums exterior town.

The undertaking was one in every of “municipal socialism” that went past offering shelter and aimed to create a extra equitable society, mentioned Eve Blau, director of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University and an expert on Vienna’s social housing.

Vienna’s public council estates had been constructed to be indistinguishable from personal buildings: Bold structure and ornamental parts ensured that reasonably priced housing was additionally lovely.

Although they had been constructed to accommodate the poor, Vienna’s Gemeindebauten, or council estates, didn’t turn into ghettoes: Named after figures like Communist Manifesto author Karl Marx or the Italian antifascist Giacomo Matteotti, the buildings had been designed to be indistinguishable from personal buildings housing town’s bourgeoisie. Even the most important estates, which might embody as much as 1,400 residences, featured statues and ornamental parts.

Care was additionally taken to combine them into the material of town. The buildings’ open courtyards had been revolutionary, mentioned Blau, as a result of they did away with the division between public streets and personal interior gardens. The complexes additionally included clinics, retailers, kindergartens and town’s first public libraries.

These had been “for the people who lived there, but also for the broader community,” mentioned Blau.

The Gemeindebauten had been immensely common among the many metropolis’s working courses — and even amongst some Austrian industrialists, who realized that low rents would enable them to maintain salaries and general manufacturing prices low — however elicited grumbles from the center class, which resented subsidizing the scheme by means of elaborate taxes on “practically everything,” mentioned Blau.

If there have been classes to be discovered from the Austrian capital’s housing method, most different nations weren’t prepared to listen to them but: Vienna’s mannequin was thought of too radical.

The Reumannhof constructing is known as after Vienna’s first social democratic mayor, Jakob Reumann.

As folks moved en masse from the countryside into the cities after World War II, most municipal governments had been confronted with an “intense pressure to provide cheap housing quickly,” mentioned Ferri, from Fondazione Housing Sociale.

That demand coincided with the rise of recent city planning tendencies influenced by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier (pseudonym for Charles-Édouard Jeanneret) that employed prefabricated parts to construct high-rise social housing in car-centric neighborhoods.

“The intentions were good: There was an idea to have housing become more vertical and leave space free on the ground,” mentioned Ferri. “But in practice what was created were unliveable cities in which the public space was given up to cars.”

In distinction to Vienna, in most European cities postwar social housing wasn’t built-in into current neighborhoods. Rather it was constructed simply exterior town, isolating those that lived there. And as a result of the precedence was constructing low cost, there was little consideration to creating the estates lovely. As a outcome, those that might afford to depart ultimately did, turning the estates into social ghettos.

In a bid to enhance the repute of social housing within the 70s and 80s, some cities commissioned star architects to execute grand initiatives. But usually these efforts failed — not due to their flamboyant structure, however as a result of they don’t remedy the deeper difficulty of integrating residents into the broader neighborhood and metropolis, mentioned Ferri.

In the Paris suburb of Noisy-le-Grand, the housing project designed by Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill, for instance, is understood not as a pretty place to dwell, however because the backdrop for the filming of dystopian films, together with the billion-dollar “Hunger Games” franchise.


Vienna’s social housing has largely prevented the form of stigma connected to estates elsewhere — partly as a result of town has stood by its authentic dedication to prioritize the standard and affordability of housing.

The solely necessities for accessing social housing are assembly a cap on income that’s so excessive that 75 % of the inhabitants qualifies, and having lived within the metropolis for two years, that means residents are typically from numerous backgrounds and aren’t segregated from each other.

There can be no huge struggle for entry: The municipal authorities makes use of a wealth fund to accumulate land and develop new initiatives, and laws has been adopted to maintain actual property values low. 

As a high quality safeguard, town requires each new undertaking should be green-lit by a jury of specialists. Rather than decide the most cost effective initiatives, proposals are as a substitute chosen based mostly on “clearly defined quality criteria such as economy, social sustainability, ecology and architecture,” mentioned Gaal, the deputy mayor.

The buildings’ open courtyards did away with the division between public streets and personal interior gardens.

The metropolis’s largest problem, in line with Gaal, is now to maintain tempo with “the needs of the citizens and respond to population growth, demographic changes and new lifestyles.” It additionally has to make sure older complexes, a few of which are actually a century previous, stay protected locations to dwell and are renovated in keeping with European power effectivity requirements.

But regardless of its age, the values and rules of Vienna’s century-old mannequin continues to affect the way forward for housing in different European cities — notably Helsinki, which has a sponsored housing inventory of 376,000 homes.

According to Elina Eskelä, senior planning officer with town, Helsinki “owns around 70 percent of all dwellings and is the largest lessor in Finland.”

Although most of that housing went up within the postwar interval, when the purpose was to construct shortly and cheaply, newer builds have prioritized the values which are hallmarks of Vienna’s Gemeindebauten: aesthetics, high quality supplies and social range.

At the time, different cities thought of Vienna’s mannequin too radical.

“On the coastal side of the city we invested in buildings that are just as attractive as the quite expensive homes next door, and we’ve enforced a social mixing housing policy that ensures every neighborhood has a mix of different tenants,” Eskelä mentioned. “Your postal code shouldn’t determine the possibilities that you have in life.”

“In the end it’s not about housing,” mentioned Harvard’s Blau. “It’s about giving the people the right to the city.”

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