Europe’s Housing Crisis: What Can We Learn From the Vienna Model?

The following article is an excerpt from our latest printed Ecosprinter titled Reclaim Your Rights! – The Social Issue. We decided to bring you the articles from this edition in a digital form as well.

by Adelina Stuparu, Sean Currie, and Anna de Koster

In the 2019 EU elections, a surge in the number of young people voting throughout Europe shook Europe’s political institutions. During the next five years we expect our representatives to ad-dress the issues relevant to us, young voters. This means, among other things, address the social struggles common for our generation. At the top of the list is access to good quality, affordable and integrated housing, solutions for which exist closer to home than one might think. Below, we provide an overview of issues and solutions that we expect to be considered and implemented, as discussed by young European participants at FYEG’s event Unconference: Social Europe Now! in Bologna, April 2019.

A housing crisis has been growing throughout Europe, particularly in metropolitan areas. Increased demand coupled with fewer housing developments and greater unaffordability have caused a crisis of affordable housing shortages. These rap-idly increasing costs have not been matched by wage increases, with young people particularly affected due to lower earning power. In contrast, older homeowners, especially in sought after lo-cations, have benefitted from this trend, being able to charge high rents and thus pushing the less wealthy, the young, and immigrants out to less desirable neighbourhoods. Housing policies are at the core of this spiralling problem: the privatisation of public housing, which has resulted in it becoming a commodity rather than a human right/public good, and a lack of effective regulation of private developments and appropriate rent caps, for example, led to the current situation in which housing has stopped being accessible or affordable for many.

So we know what bad housing looks like. But what about good housing? What should we aspire to? Maybe the easiest way to think of this is as including five aspects. As a foundation, it should be community controlled. This means the residents of the housing decide how it is developed, what amenities are invested in, and so on. This sounds obvious, but it is a far cry from the landlord-con-trolled system currently infecting most of Europe. Community control helps to bring about the other aspects; namely, that it is good quality, sustainable for the community and the planet, secure (meaning that the residents know they can live there as long as they like within humane and reasonable rules), and inclusive. There are several models to achieve this, but this discussion is complex and beyond the scope of this Ecosprinter article. Instead, we will show you one example which we looked at in Bologna.

Vienna is often talked of as one of the world’s most affordable cities, largely resulting from a sound public sector housing model. Social housing in the Austrian capital is hugely popular, with two thirds of residents benefitting from it; neighbourhoods are often diverse because rent caps make the housing units affordable to multiple segments of the population. A Vienna resident can expect to pay no more than a third of their income on rent and the contracts are often awarded based on need: anyone earning around 45000E/year or less can qualify for public housing. When it is possible to access affordable housing to this extent, it is difficult for private investors to significantly raise the rent prices. The city funds the refurbishment and development of new housing with a combination of income tax, corporate tax, and a housing contribution made by employees in the city. When land speculation began driving up rent prices the local council reacted with tough measures on private developers, through a regulation that stopped them from charging more than 5E/sq2 for two thirds of new developments in order to qualify for public subsidies. In short, the Vienna model provides good quality, affordable, inclusive, secure, and sustainable housing.

The Vienna model demonstrates that we do not have to accept a housing situation where powerful landlords impose poor quality homes that are insecure, unsustainable and exclusionary. Solutions to the current crisis do exist, and they do not need to be isolated cases. If we are to succeed at creating a more secure and sustainable housing environment in our towns and cities, the housing sector needs to be regulated and repaired by addressing the systemic issues that led to the specified issues. First and foremost the housing sector needs to be decommodified, and policies have to consider the rights of residents more than the profits of investors, developers, and housing entrepreneurs.

Adelina is interested in Eastern European/Balkan politics and grassroots environmental movements. She is a coordinator at our; Sean is a political science student from Scotland. Inspired into activism by the campaign for Scottish independence in 2014, he currently co-convenes the Scottish Young Greens and spends his occasional free time dancing to the sweet melodies of German techno music; Anne is an activist and a nerd for anything urbanist/environmental. She is obsessed with dogs, Jane Austen novels and fighting the patriarchy. Anne is currently living in London, where she is studying sustainable urban planning.

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