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Vienna: Housing is a Human Right

by German DGB Union Monday, Apr. 08, 2019 at 11:55 AM

Housing as a human right is subverted by the right of speculation. The Vienna Housing Fund buys up potential development land and prevents speculation. Rents in Vienna are half the rents in Munich.


By the German DGB Union

[This article published on 3/21/2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, www.dgb.de.]

Unlike Vienna’s housing market, German renters can only dream of low rents. The secret is that Vienna invests hundreds of millions every year in social housing construction. There are hardly any private investors.

6.50 Euros per square meter

Two rooms, kitchen and balcony in an attractive new apartment only a 15 minute walk away from the main train station (with a subsidized rent): 367 euros a month including operating costs. There is even a pool and a movie theater in the basement. This residential quarter in Vienna consists of 2,000 subsidized rental apartments,

62 percent of all Vienna citizens live in apartments with subsidized rents. The average basic rent of public apartments including running costs was 6.50 euros per square meter in 2016. More modern apartments cost a maximum 7.50 euros. The city of Vienna owns 220,000 apartments and is a co-owner in another 200,000. The “Vienna Housing” communal authority is Europe’s largest. Private condos are a rarity. In 2017, Vienna citizens paid on average only 9.60 euros basic rent per square meter – namely three times less than the residents of Paris.

Public apartments for (almost) everyone

Every adult Vienna persons who earns less than 45,000 euros net a year and claims a material financial need has a right to public housing. For example, couples who want to move from two small apartments into a larger unit are considered needy. The hurdles are deliberately low. “The small building policy in Vienna is based on the promise that housing is a human right,” says Kathryn Gaal, administrative advisor for housing in Vienna. Three quarters of all Vienna citizens meet the prerequisites for a subsidized apartment. Persons from all classes and age groups live next to each other in public housing – without any trace of ghettos or gentrification.

Living and working side by side

Aspern, the district in northeast Vienna, is one of Europe’s largest state development areas and is a prototype for modern and ecological urban development. 20,000 persons live here in predominantly subsidized housing. The idea is different persons living and working side by side. Retail shops, restaurants or workshops are on the ground floor of many apartment buildings. Over 150 businesses have already settled in Aspern. There are large and small firms, start-ups, traditional firms, retailers and industrial companies. Playground, a music academy, kindergartens, a medical center and many green spaces ensure a high quality of life. 15,000 persons already live today in multi-family houses on the banks of a small lake.

Part of Vienna identity

Like many big German cities, Vienna battles rising rents. More and more people moved in the Austrian capital in the last years. However, unlike Germany, institutional structures exist in Vienna that regulate the housing market and protect the market from private investors.

Social housing is part of Vienna identity. After the First World War ended, a cornerstone was laid for today’s housing policy. Returning soldiers and war refugees guaranteed a rapidly growing urban population. The homeless were part of the city. The city recognized the problem and built public housing for 220,000 people between 1923 and 1924.

“We could learn from Vienna”

Since then, the city has not sold anything. Rather, the Vienna government spends 600 million euros building new apartments every year. The money comes in equal shares from employees and employers. In Vienna, it is largely socially accepted that 0.5% of the gross wage is deducted for housing construction,” Maximilian Fuhrmann, analyst for housing- and consumer policy, told the DGB. While the Vienna is not transferable one-t-one to German cities, Fuhrmann says “we could learn many things.”

For a long while, German communities saw no reason to build new social housing. On the contrary, they sold a large part of their social housing since the 1980s. For expel, the city of Berlin in 2003 resolved not to subsidize the construction of new social apartments. In the following years, hardly any new multi-family housing was built. In 2006, there were only 452 in all Berlin, according to a study of the Austrian research division.

Create affordable housing space

There is a similar picture in other big German cities. Nearly 2 million affordable units are lacking there. Rising rents and ghettoization are the results. The rich own downtown areas while established residents are forced to fringe areas. The number of homeless climbs nationwide. Creating affordable living space becomes a key challenge for German politics to regain the trust of people.

Vienna continues to diligently build while Germany still discusses the right way. Four new apartment buildings with more than 100 units will arise in the district by the summer of 2019 – with low rents.

Note JK: Clearly, “the market” cannot do anything. The absurdity of neoliberal ideology is repeatedly manifest here. According to market radical logic, all market actors are intent on an optimal result, on realizing a maximum profit for the deployed resources. Therefore, expensive apartments are built in Germany for investors who want to realize the highest possible rental income. People seeking affordable housing with only limited financial resources are not helped at all. .


Affordable Rents? A State of Emergency Intensifies

by Werner Rugemer and others, 2018


Rents explode in cities after massive sales of public housing to brutal investors. Affordable housing is in short supply. Something must change fast. In 1987, there were 5.5 million social apartments in Germany. Today, there are only 1.5 million in all Germany. Since 2014, the number of homeless in Germany has doubled to 800,000. Investors go unpunished. The Great Coalition government under Helmut Kohl abolished nonprofit housing cooperatives in 1988.

Land speculation is prevented in Vienna. The Vienna Housing Fund buys up possible development land. The constitutional state must be helped to its feet. In impoverished Germany after WW1, local communities built hundreds of thousands of nonprofit apartments. The pressure from below made all the difference.

Housing as Infrastructure


Housing as a human right is sometimes superseded by the right of speculation. Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (a Federal program), non-profit or cooperative housing, and SROs (single residency occupancy) are three solutions to the housing crisis.

Strategies like public subsidies for building social housing are known from earlier housing emergencies. The Vienna example shows government housing policy can go different ways and strong external pressure is necessary.

Housing as a Human Right By Arnold Kunzli, Bern Peace Week 1990, 2003

The human right of housing is subverted by the right of speculation.

When speculation is unbridled, sharks are protected against the sardines.

This article by the Swiss emeritus professor Arnold Kunzli is translated from the German in: Neue Wege. http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2003/06/266635.shtml

[Arnold Kunzli's lecture "Housing as a Human Right" presented at the 1990 Bern peace week and broadcast later by radio DRS is translated by Marc Batko from the German in the Swiss Neue Wege 84, June 1990. The text shows that a right to housing also includes a right to land but that these two rights cannot be realized within existing property structures. Only a distribution of land ownership in a discretionary property of communes and a revenue property of individuals enables the human right to land and housing to be guaranteed to all people. As in his latest book "Rescue Freedom from its Protectors!", Professor Kunzli (Zurich) reveals in this lecture how little capitalism and human rights are compatible with one another.]

The Idea of Human Rights

The idea of human rights, as we understand it today, was conceived during that secular movement of emancipation called the age of the Enlightenment. It implies that certain innate, inalienable basic rights come to the person, to every person without exception, owing only to the fact that he or she was born as a person, independent of sex, age, intelligence, race and membership to a class, religion and nation, independent even from time and space. These rights have a pre-political or supra-political character and are valid absolutely and universally. Standing above the positive law, they cannot be balanced, decreed or abolished and form the substance of what is called human dignity.

- In the formulation of the 1776 American Declaration of Independence composed by Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all persons are created equal endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

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