VIENNA

Derek scally
Karl Marx remains a contested political theorist, but no one complains about Vienna’s most famous social housing block that bears his name. Karl Marx Court is a pink and cream housing complex of 1,400 apartments built in the 1930s as part of Vienna’s century-old Gemeindebau (public housing) program. In post-Habsburg Austria, amid a severe housing shortage and tuberculosis epidemic, politicians here have prioritized the issue of housing.

“100 years ago, in Vienna, they saw where the lack of housing could lead and did not want to go back,” explains Markus Leitgeb, spokesperson for public housing in Vienna.

The idea of ​​social housing took hold and has never disappeared, making Vienna a world leader in the practice. About two-thirds of Viennese residents live in state-owned apartments, on a cost-rent basis, which links rents to income. This not only cuts the link between price and market values, it also isolates the city from extremes in the real estate market.

As Vienna has never followed other cities and sold its social housing – to tenants or private investors – the stable rental income allows public housing companies to keep adding new blocks. Qualification largely depends on a means test – an income of € 3,300 per month or less for a single person. But there is also a criteria based on needs. Growing families may request to move to a larger apartment, while older tenants may request to downsize or move to an apartment with a lift.

Although universally admired – about 20 city groups from around the world visit each year to find out more – Vienna’s public housing officials say they rarely hear from visitors who have turned their admiration into action.

Dublin City Council visited Vienna in 2019 and, back home, launched a series of exhibitions and lectures on the Viennese model.

To overcome ideological inhibitions in a landlord society, the council has pledged to move forward with 800 rental units at cost in Ballymun and Inchicore.

Currently, Inchicore is scheduled for delivery in 2026.

After visiting Vienna three years ago, former city councilor Ciarán Cuffe, now Green MEP, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that a change was underway in Dublin. He remains optimistic but frustrated.

“The system of approval and approval of local authority plans by the central government needs to be simplified,” he said. “I know we can do it in Dublin, but it requires a greater sense of urgency at all levels.”

BERLIN

Derek scally

Berlin: A protest slogan on a building says “We want to stay”. Photography: iStock

Moheb Shafaqyar should be the happiest man in Berlin. In September, some 56% of Berliners backed his movement’s demands to strip business owners of their assets in the capital.

It was a radical response to a radical problem: a housing crisis in the German capital that has seen rents in some areas soar to 146% in 10 years.

After three decades post-unification, Berlin was the big easy one for tenants, with spacious, inexpensive housing and a declining population. Now the investors have piled in, the population is growing and gentrification is a dirty word.

The citizens’ initiative Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen, named after one of Berlin’s largest landlords, argued that some 240,000 apartments could be taken off the free market – and rents checked – if the city bought them back from private companies with over 3,000 apartments each.

On election night, the campaign’s founders were gloating over what they called an “unambiguous result (…) to drive speculators and sharks out of the city’s real estate.”

Three months later, the organization is furious, accusing Berlin of “transparent delaying tactics”. Rather than act, Berlin’s new city-state government must set up a commission that will sit for a year and come up with non-binding proposals on how to proceed. New Social Democratic (SPD) mayor Franziska Giffey said she respected the vote but disagreed with it, stressing it would cost billions of dollars in buyouts without creating new homes . Its counter-offer – to build 20,000 new social housing units per year until 2030 – has been met with skepticism, as previous targets have never been achieved. An effort by the last city government to cap rents also came to nothing and was declared unconstitutional in April, although the new government has vowed to try again.

The fate of the Berlin referendum is anything but clear, with major constitutional and financial concerns pointed out ahead of the vote. But the vote has already achieved one thing: It has frightened Berlin’s new city-state coalition into taking growing public anger over the housing shortage seriously.

Not that Berlin is alone with its housing crisis. While all cities face the same problem, the new German federal coalition led by the SPD has identified the housing crisis as “the social issue of our time”. It plans to build 400,000 new apartments, a quarter of which at subsidized rents.

With lots of talk but, so far, little action, tenants in Berlin and elsewhere have learned to be skeptical.

NETHERLANDS

Pierre Cluskey

A room in the restored 475m² Amsterdam canal house which was for rent at € 16,000 per month

A room in the restored 475m² Amsterdam canal house which was for rent at € 16,000 per month

Protest marches have become a frequent sight in Dutch cities, complaining about the government’s continued failure to build adequate housing stock – resulting in a crisis in affordable rental housing and long waiting lists for housing. social.

Space has always been an issue in the Netherlands, the most densely populated country in Europe, with 17.5 million people on a postage stamp roughly the size of Munster.

Yet the problem is enormous: at least 845,000 new homes will be needed by 2030 to meet currently foreseeable needs.

Uncertainty in the pandemic’s first year has seen rents drop slightly, but they have risen again since the third quarter of this year, with tenants paying an average 2.5% more per square meter than they do. a year ago – and a shortage of properties on offer.

After the fall of the government of Mark Rutte last January, all the main parties pledged in the legislative elections in March to make housing a national priority. Finally, as Christmas approaches, a new coalition has just been put in place – and there are indications that real change is in sight.

A new Minister of Housing who will be appointed in January will have the budget to build 100,000 additional housing units per year and the power to put pressure on local authorities to free up building land.

A landlord tax will be removed to encourage housing companies to build more affordable housing, while a “right to buy” regime is put in place for tenants of social housing.

And a controversial scheme that allows affluent parents to give their children big tax-free gifts to hoist them up the property ladder will be abolished.

The goal is to rebalance a schizophrenic market where those who could afford it took advantage of historically low interest rates to fuel steadily rising prices since June 2013. In October alone, the year-over-year increase was 18. 3%. .

So, contrary to the image of Dutch common sense, there is nothing to be learned from this dysfunctional rental market – other than, perhaps, how to charge.

At the top, for example, a beautifully restored 475m² Amsterdam canal house was recently listed for € 16,000 per month.

“People are finally realizing that it’s not their fault that they can’t afford to buy a modest house or even rent one,” says Sander van der Kraan, who co- organized a march. “It fuels social unrest.”