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Vienna's Lessons for Building High-Quality Affordable Housing

Could Vienna's century of experience in creating housing that is both affordable and attractive offers lessons for how the U.S. can address its growing affordability crisis? In the Austrian capital, more regulation, not less, leads to cheaper rents.
February 1, 2013, 1pm PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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While pundits in America lament the role of government regulation in driving up the cost of housing, "[a] unique system nearly a century in the making has created a situation today in which the city government of Vienna either owns or directly influences almost half the housing stock in the capital city," writes Ryan Holeywell. "As a result, residents enjoy high-quality apartments with inexpensive rent, along with renters’ rights that would be unheard of in the U.S."

"The Viennese have decided that housing is a human right so important that it shouldn’t be left up to the free market."

First established in Vienna in the 1920s, "[t]he idea that everyday citizens should have access to not just affordable apartments but also attractive ones -- and that it’s the city’s responsibility to provide them -- continues to this day. There’s a mindset that housing is a way to link residents to their communities and the larger city through design," notes Holeywell.

"Vienna’s government takes an approach to residential development that’s more rigorous and deliberative than many private-sector developers in America. That’s because in the U.S., 'cost is the No. 1 priority,' [architectural historian William] Menking says. In Vienna, it’s just one of four. At the same time, the competition among developers is so fierce -- the result of the city’s land monopoly -- that the result is a very affordable development. 'We were doing some comparisons of public housing in Los Angeles and public housing in Vienna,' Menking says, 'and Vienna was cheaper per square foot than L.A.'”

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Published on Friday, February 1, 2013 in Governing
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