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Posted September 19, 2022

Vienna Housing Model is a Failed Experiment

A great analysis of the failings and false promises of the Vienna Model of social housing is: “Emerging Housing
Commons? Vienna’s housing crises then and now.”
by Mara Verlic for RC21, The Ideal City conference, Urbino,
Italy, August 27-29, 2015 h. 

The Vienna model relied upon severe rent control which slashed rents in half pushing private rentals into distress. The City used this mechanism to purchase land cheaply and then construct social housing using taxes on wealthy citizens and high income earners. Vacant units were expropriated for social housing. The entire system was based upon Marxism and state control of private property use, ownership and allocation.The result was a chronic shortage or housing with dictatorial management and adminstration and badly degraded housing structures.

Removal of rent controls and regulations were requuired in the 1990s to re-establish some market forces and generate new consruction from this failed experiment. 

Summary of the Paper

  1. Both: (a) “Housing as a Human Right” concept and (b) “the commodification of housing” critique of free-market housing are directly from Marxism: Karl Marx’s co-author of the Communist Manifesto Frederich Engels used these concepts to justify the Marxist/Communist model of state built, owned and managed social housing. The Red Vienna model of Austria’s social housing was a product of this Marxist philosophy.

  1. The Red Vienna model (1922) consisted of:
    1. Rent Control Act of 1922
    2. Expropriation of private rental property: severe rent controls cut rents in half resulting in massive devaluation of private rental property which were then acquired by the government at devalued price - amounts to confiscation of private rental property by the government consistent with the Marxist philosophy they followed.
      1. Housing that was vacant could be expropriated. 
      2. The current attack on so-called “vacant homes” is similar.
    3. Government built, owned and managed social housing.
      1. Financed (in part) by a tax on renters!
      2. Rents were set far too low (3%-4% of tenant incomes), but tenants were also responsible for certain operating costs.
      3. Security of tenure - no eviction even if tenants couldn't pay rent due to job loss or illness.
      4. Discriminatory allocation of government housing based on a point system favouring Austrian citizens, Vienna residency, married couples, etc…

  1. Results of the Vienna Model:
    1. Chronically under-supplied rental housing with long waitlists. 
    2. Discriminatory allocation of apartments.
    3. Dictatorial management of tenants and their activities by the state including surveillance and set times for laundry, bathing, carpet dusting and waste disposal. 

  1. 1980s Collapse of the Failed Austrian Welfare State and Red Vienna Model:
    1. Coincided with the fall of the Communist Iron Curtain and collapse of the Communist economic system.
    2. Strict rent controls led to chronic rental housing shortage and degraded rental housing stock in Austria.

  1. 1990s Dismantling the Red Vienna Model:
    1. Encouraged the private rental market by:
      1. 1994: Removing rent controls from new rental housing.
      2. 2004: Vienna stopped all government built social housing.
      3. Relied more on direct government subsidies to low income renters.
    2. But, due to rent control on older rental housing: still have rental housing shortages, large market rent increases and degraded rental housing quality.