In 2020, Vienna’s municipal housing celebrated its 100th anniversary. To this day, it remains true to its mission of providing affordable, high-quality dwellings for broad strata of the population.
By 1918, Vienna’s population had risen to over two million, leading to unacceptably poor living conditions of the working class. Many people lived in “Bassena” flats – dwellings composed of just one room and a kitchen, with the kitchen only receiving light and ventilation from the corridor, and one single water faucet (called “Bassena”) as well as one toilet per floor. These often overcrowded quarters were additionally used by around 170,000 “bed lodgers” – who used a bed certain hours of a day, sleeping in shifts – and roomers. The unhealthy living conditions favoured the outbreak of epidemics like tuberculosis, which was in fact referred to as “the Viennese disease”.
After the First World War, a rent cap (“Friedenszins”, or “peace-rent”) was introduced to enable the population to afford their dwellings in the postwar period. However, as a result, no roomers were taken in anymore, which made it even more difficult for the lowest-income groups to find accommodation.
In 1922, Vienna became a federal province and thus acquired fiscal sovereignty. The Social Democratic politician Hugo Breitner laid the cornerstone for modern-day municipal housing by introducing a new rent tax which only affected the top 20 percent of rents. Thus, the luxury spending of the affluent funded the provision of basic services for broad strata of the population while stimulating the economy.
In 1923, the Vienna City Council adopted the first housing construction programme, which envisaged the creation of 25,000 flats over a five-year period. The main objective lay in providing healthy living conditions for the inhabitants of Vienna, in keeping with the motto “fresh air, light and sunshine”. To this day, the City of Vienna has remained true to this guiding principle for the construction of municipal housing estates.
In time, attention was also given to the rehabilitation of older residential complexes. Thus, the predecessor of today’s wohnfonds_wien was established in 1984 for the purpose of implementing subsidised rehabilitation and refurbishment projects. In this way, around 10,000 housing units were rehabilitated year after year. The objective lay in improving housing quality (e.g. by installing lifts) while also reducing energy and heating costs.
The (so far) last completed municipal complex in Rösslergasse 15 (23rd municipal district) was taken over by its tenants in 2004. However, the high demand for particularly inexpensive housing motivated the City of Vienna in 2015 to build more municipal. At the moment, over 4,000 new municipal flats are being built. An additional 1,500 dwellings under the “Municipal Housing NEW” programme will be launched during the next legislative period.
Thanks to this outstanding historic achievement, about 500,000 persons today live in Vienna’s municipal housing estates. This makes the City of Vienna the biggest municipal housing provider in Europe. Wiener Wohnen administers and manages more than 220,000 flats and approx. 1,800 housing estates in the Austrian capital.
In addition to the construction of new dwellings and the refurbishment of older ones, its tasks also include the upkeep and maintenance of green areas, interior courtyards, playgrounds, laundries and communal premises for hobbies, sports and leisure activities.
No equity has to be invested when moving to a municipal flat, tenancy contracts are open-ended, and no commission, contractual fee or deposit must be paid – all this makes municipal housing the least costly form of housing in Vienna. The allocation criteria for such flats are clearcut: minimum age of 18 years, minimum registration of two years at the current address in Vienna as primary residence, Austrian citizenship or equivalent, and income below a defined threshold. These income thresholds are deliberately higher to also include middle-class families, couples and singles and, hence, to improve the social mix.
With an additional, comprehensive range of counselling services for all areas of life as well as cultural events and opportunities for leisure activities, municipal housing estates ensure that all of their inhabitants are able to combine high housing comfort with a good standard of living.