Paul Liberatore

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How Vienna maintains 8 times as much social housing as Vancouver

One of Vienna's biggest challenge is to find enough land to build housing for the growing city. Vienna is the capital and largest city in Austria, with a population of about 1.8 million. 



Vienna, Austria might be known for stunning architecture, but its dedication to subsidized rental housing is why it's in the spotlight today.

Nearly 220,000 units in the city are subsidized, explains Kurt Puchinger, a housing administrator for the city, who is in Vancouver to speak at the Re:Address Housing Conference.

In comparison, Vancouver has 25,649 units of social housing.

The key difference is funding.

"From 1922, we have a tradition of nearly 100 years of subsidized housing," Puchinger said. "The money comes from the central government [and] public housing is part of our constitution ... there is a stable financial basis from the public sector."

He said every year Vienna receives 460 million Euros ($672 million Canadian) from the central government, and the state chips in a further 140 million Euros ($204 million Canadian).

The city uses public funding to create 8,000 to 9,000 units of subsidized housing every year.

Vancouver's perspective

After sharing the stage with Puchinger at the conference, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said he found the contrast between the two cities particularly interesting.

"Ultimately if the right to housing was in the Canadian constitution, we'd be in a different world now," he said, referring to Vancouver housing crunch.

He said his city's scenario is entirely different.

"We're a long ways from achieving the right to housing in our constitution," he said. "For now, our struggle is to get more resources from those levels of government."

The City of Vancouver has asked the federal government for $500 million over five years to build social housing on 20 city properties.

The provincial government committed $500 million this year from a budget surplus, but the money is for affordable rental housing across the province — an estimated 4,900 units.

Number of challenges

Despite the significant amount of social housing, Puchinger said Vienna faces some challenges in meeting their subsidized housing policy.

For one, the city is facing immense population growth — an estimated 30,000 people arrive in the city every year.

Not all of the growth is covered with subsidized housing, Puchinger explained. The market housing and private housing sectors make up the difference.

Puchinger said another struggle is to find available land. The city is only about 400 square kilometers, and developers have to contend with a city policy to keep 50 per cent of the city green.

The city of Vancouver, by contrast, is 114 square kilometers, and the Metro Vancouver region is 2877 square kilometers.

"The land prices are growing, so it's becoming more complicated to get the appropriate land."

A key success of the policy, Puchinger also said, is subsidized housing is not a point of discrimination.

"[There] is a social mixture all over the city. You cannot identify the social status of a person by looking at their address," he said.

"Renting a flat is not a social discriminating act."


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