80 years of social housing in vienna introduction

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As a result of several experimental buildings, low-energy consumption (max. 50 kWh/ m2 / year of total consumption) has now become the rule in new housing. This is also seen as one of Vienna’s contributions to fulfil the requirements of the Kyoto Treaty, which was also signed by Austria. Other ecological measures include individual water metering, the use of rainwater and ‘grey’ water, passive and active solar energy use, etc.

New housing estates are required to connect to the city-owned district heating system; as far as technically feasible, this is also the case with all subsidized renewal projects. Currently, some 212,000 apartments – about 25 % of all housing in Vienna – as well as a large number of offices and business premises are connected to this heating system. It comprises of 900 kilometres of pipes. Each apartment metered individually. The initial temperature lies between 95 and 150 Celsius depending on the outside temperature. About 25 % of the necessary energy is provided by waste incineration, the rest comes from linkages to several power stations and a large refinery. Only at peak times, close to 4,5 % of the annual consumption has to be produced in five gas or oil power stations. Thus 64,6 % of all primary energy can be saved, equalling a reduction of CO2 output of one million tons. The present capacity of the district heating company is extended continuously.
Tenants’ Security

Despite much controversy, the 1917 Tenancy Act, which regulates the maximum amount of rent that may be asked for an apartment according to location, legal status, and construction period, has remained a national law until the present day. Only in very few, exactly defined cases, rents can be increased. Limited rental contracts have been allowed for some years. Most Vienna households nevertheless dispose of indefinite rental contracts, which can even be passed on to children occupying the same flat. In social housing only indefinite contracts are permitted, and tenants enjoy a broad participation in the day-to-day management of the building. But also in privately-owned rental buildings, tenants are guaranteed important rights; they may, for example, carry out improvements against the owner’s decision (but not the other way round!). Disagreements between landlords and tenants can be decided by a city-run arbitration office without any extra costs. Decisions of this department are legally binding and can be passed on to the courts. This unusually high security for tenants may explain why about 80 % of all Vienna residents live in rental apartments.

Balanced Neighbourhoods

In order to prevent the emergence of social ghettos, new housing areas usually comprise of apartments of different costs and of various legal statuses: rental and owner-occupied apartments with higher or lower subsidisation, as well as privately financed condominiums, the latter being without any income limits. As a result, large new housing estates have a rather good social mixture.

Social City Planning

In Vienna housing is understood as a part of social-oriented city planning. The city has installed an infrastructure commission to define in detail the conditions for subsidized housing projects. Thus, new housing projects form a part of an existing area and help to overcome infrastructure deficiencies, such as in schools, health institutions, etc. Public means of transport are equally important.

The general rules are put down in the City Development Plan and are being revised and adopted by the City Council roughly every ten years. It defines the general aims and the development trends, including among others, the housing or business areas, axes of urban development along public transport lines, green areas, etc. Other plans, notably the Land Use Plan, are based on this general conception.
The Land Use Plan is subject to broad public participation by residents, district councils, etc., and is also adopted by the City Council. It includes the exact Widmung of each single plot in Vienna. These plans are worked out by the respective City Planning Departments (MA 21A, B or C) and by the politicians (councillors) bearing the responsibility for urban planning and housing.
Social Architecture

The general policy of Vienna, i.e. not to leave urban development and housing completely up to the free market, is complemented by the housing subsidies and by the regulations of the Building Order, a Vienna provincial act. In its first part this law rules issues of city planning, like the interdisciplinary Advisory Board for Urban Planning and Urban Development, and the contents of the Land Use Plan. These plans have to describe in detail its exact use for each plot of land, the height and form of the buildings (free-standing, attached, etc.), the maximum density, the number of green areas, underground building parts, etc. They are legally binding for everyone after adoption by the City Council.

Other chapters of the Building Order law stipulate the technical requirements, such as health protection and handicapped accessibility, as well as the architectural design. Without impeding modern architecture even in so-called protection-zones, any disturbance of the overall urban landscape should be prevented. The city has an own architectural department (MA 19) to provide advice and to offer assistance in deciding about new buildings, reconstructions, or the design of open areas. The department has also collected data about culturally valuable buildings, which can be accessed via the World Wide Web.
Information and Public Discourse

A further development of social housing concerns urban planning, architecture, ecology, and last but not least, social policy. This needs a continual broad discussion by the general public and among experts, as well as continuous information availability. This includes special housing research programmes and the distribution of their results by publications, presentations, and the regular publishing of housing issues in the media. Of course the clients of social housing, potential house-hunters for example, have to be informed comprehensively and un-bureaucratically. At the city-owned company Wohnservice Wien, all information about planned and completed subsidized housing projects can be obtained at its centrally-located centre or via its web page. But this is only the beginning. The city is now implementing its e-government strategy, which in the near future will enable residents to carry out all necessary steps from their homes, from the first overview of new housing, to the reservation of a particular apartment.

Vienna social housing thus represents a manifold system, which for decades has continuously developed and adapted to meet new challenges. In spite of its complexity, however, its primary aim should be kept in mind: to offer comfortable contemporary housing in an attractive urban environment to all residents at affordable prices.

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