Interview with Kathrin Gaál

The secret of success of the “Vienna Model”

Kathrin Gaál, Vienna’s Executive City Councillor for Women’s Issues and Housing, in an interview about the secret of success of the “Vienna Model”, housing as a public task and the big challenges of the future.

For more than 100 years, Vienna has been renowned worldwide for its social housing policies. What is it that makes Vienna special in this respect?

Social housing policies in Vienna have been shaped by the political commitment that housing is a basic right. We therefore consider it a public task to provide our citizens with sufficient affordable housing. 45 percent of the housing market in Vienna is made up of city-owned and cooperative apartments. More than 60 percent of the population live in these buildings. Both types of subsidised housing are rent-controlled and offer permanent rental agreements. This type of reliable housing is rather unique and cannot be found to the same extent in any other city.

What can other cities learn from Vienna’s housing policies?

Vienna insisted on not privatising social housing in the 1990ies when other cities were selling their municipal housing projects. Today, more than ever, we can see that this strategy has been successful. No other city has invested more into housing than Vienna. We annually invest about 600 million euros in the construction of new urban developments and in renovating old buildings to upgrade historical urban quarters. Vienna also provided for the future and established the wohnfonds_wien more than 30 years ago. This fund for housing construction and urban renewal buys, develops and provides land for social housing projects. Currently, Vienna has got 2.8 million square metres of land at its disposal to build affordable housing.

Vienna is growing. Where do you see the biggest challenges for the housing sector?

The biggest challenge certainly is to create sufficient affordable housing for the Viennese. And also to consider the needs of the citizens and respond to population growth, demographic changes and new lifestyles. There is hardly anything else that affects our life more than housing.

What role does social mix play?

Social mix is one of the most important objectives of Vienna’s social housing policies, in the city in general and also within every individual apartment complex, because it is the best guarantee for good and peaceful neighbourly relations. You will therefore not find any social hotspots or ghettos in our city. This is only possible because we provide the middle classes with access to social housing where we have a net rent of four to five euros per square metre, by the way. This is the reason why we have higher income limits for the allocation of city-owned and subsidised apartments. With this strategy we prevent that only socially vulnerable groups live in certain neighbourhoods. What is special about Vienna is that you cannot tell how much someone earns simply by looking at their address.

What else does Vienna do to keep housing affordable for all?

For many years, Vienna has shown how important it is to ensure stable prices by smartly combining land procurement, a diversified subsidy system, tenant protection and tenant participation. Wherever it is possible for us as a city we aim to create a positive impact on rents. In the framework of our housing initiative, we have launched thousands of new subsidised apartments. We have also adopted legal regulations stipulating a new land use category to dampen land prices and real estate speculation. This means that, in the future, two thirds of every new large housing project must consist of subsidised housing and only the rest can be privately funded. In this way, we can guarantee that housing remains affordable for the Viennese. We are convinced that building more social housing is the best way to dampen prices on the housing market.