Vienna top city for quality of living

VIENNA was again this year ranked first in the world for quality of living. Its city centre is a Unesco World Heritage site, internationally recognised as one of the globes’ most innovative cities and a it is recipient of the UN most prestigious human settlements award for its soft urban renewal programme that did not see poorer residents pushed out.

Austria’s population is among the wealthiest in the EU and the differences between the rich and the poor are among the smallest in the Union.

But 60% of Viennese live in what we would call ‘social housing’ , although, according to Michaela Kauer, “nobody sees themselves as working-class in Vienna, everyone sees themselves as middle-income”.

Just over 100 years ago, poverty was endemic. along with the ‘Viennese illness’ TB. Exploitation was rife, child mortality was high, and there was a massive housing shortage for the myriad poor. It was so bad that people shared not just homes but beds — those on night shift taking over from those working days.

The Social Democrats came to power after the First World War and have been in power in the city’s council since except for the Nazi era. Between the two world wars, the city built 50,000 municipal flats with a tax raised from the rich.

Since then, the system has evolved, with property tax going into housing and the growth of limited-profit co-operatives providing more than a million of the city’s 1.7m population with 350,000 quality, affordable homes of which 220,000 are owned by the city.

Viennese are proud of their social housing and a person’s address is no indication of their social status, as they are mixed across the whole city, meaning no socially problematic neighbourhoods, according to the city.

The different generations also live side by side, providing a social stability. Open-ended tenancy agreements, protected tenancies, and low rents keeping pace with inflation, while renewal means less than 5% is classified as sub-standard.

Rents for the 220,000 municipal and a similar number of cooperative flats in Vienna are based on the cost of maintaining the building and repaying the construction costs with state social assistance for those whose income is not sufficient.

The city estimates that rents would be a third higher without the subsidies and limits put on construction costs and rents. To qualify for state subsidies, plans for new housing being provided by the city or by developers must meet be judged by a panel of independent experts to meet certain standards of social sustainability, architecture, ecology and economy.

New SMART flats of between one to five rooms have been especially designed and new developments must comprise a third of them. They are more compact in size to meet the needs of the population whose incomes are affected by the economic crisis and so are not increasing. Tenants pay an initial €3,300 and monthly rent of €415 for about 55 sq m, with large storage rooms and communal areas helping compensate.

Passive housing with heating costs being cut by 90% is the aim in all new and renovated housing, helped by EU funds — and is cutting the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Residential developments for older people ensuring as much independence as needed and close to €1m last year in subsidies to adapt people’s homes helps them remain at home.

Welcome offices to help people wishing to get a dwelling and a mobile emergency response team to organise swift repairs for lift, power and gas supply issues in buildings are all part of the service. Housing estates have a high proportion of green space and there is now a tree register to ensure better tree maintenance to protect the city’s 70,000 trees. Staff mediate in rows over, for instance, using outdoor spaces and promote volunteers to form groups to welcome new neighbours and tutoring pupils in chess and art.

However, with a high influx of migrants, a drop of 25% in public housing grants, the housing crisis in other countries affecting the demand for the housing bonds, and threatened EU restraints, “it is doubtful that the supply of affordable housing will be sufficient in the forthcoming years”, according to Housing Europe.

Vienna

> Population: 1.7 m.

> Living in social housing: 60%

> Population at risk of poverty: 17%

> General government spending for housing and community amenities as % of GDP: 0.7%

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