Introduction to dérive: The Vienna Model of Housing Provision in Times of Austerity

Public & Social Housing in General
Social and public housing once qualified as a means of
intervening in society in order to achieve the equal distribution
of ever expanding wealth in Europe. Municipal housing, as well
as state owned industry, restrictive regulations such as taxation
on luxury and speculation and the stimulus of subsidies were the
legitimate and broadly accepted tools by which to implement a
social liberalist society. Today, however, all these governmental
tools and actions seem to be tired out and no longer accepted by
a broader popular discourse. The labour class, which was at the
core of the social democratic discourse on public housing, seems
to have disappeared: dissolved into what are today called target
groups: young families, senior citizens, single households, carless
collectives, etc.

In recent years, underpinned by the liberal discourse of
Western industrial nations and in parallel with the advancements
of the so-called financial capitalism (Marazzi 2010) that has
led to the current financial crises, it has appeared that there is
no acute housing shortage and no misery, and thus no need for
public housing or subsidies any longer. With this development
the individual subject was made to believe that they had sole
responsibility for their good or bad »luck«. The state and
municipalities could easily and without resistance outsource
the housing question – that is to build affordable housing for
all – and get rid of real estate in order to implement a lean
administration and fill the supposedly empty city treasury. In
many European cities a traditional renters-market was and still is gradually being transformed into an exclusive owners-market.
The pragmatic social-democratic attitude of reforming society
towards a distributed wealth – which has, from the beginning,
been strongly associated with the production of housing – has
been replaced by a generally accepted impetus towards (reduced
state intervention) less state and a wide-reaching austerity policy.
Friedrich Engels’ position in his seminal text The Housing
Question (1872) seems bereft of any basis; in particular, the
argument that: »only by the solution of the social question, that
is, by the abolition of the capitalist mode of production, is the
solution of the housing question made possible.« (Engels 1872)
Since the 1960s the capitalist mode of production has
expanded radically into society at large (Tronti 1974), including
into what Marx had called the Non-Labour. The labour class has
disintegrated since this time; its particularized contemporaries
are no longer represented within the general discourse. This
has led to a situation in which the social question has been
excluded, as if it has already been solved by individualization and
particularization. Thus the current situation has presented itself
as if there is, on the one hand, no need to reform and actualize
the current liberalized systems of housing provision towards
more common wealth. On the other hand, the current situation
has created status setting in which it is utterly unacceptable to
speak about revolutionary policy. Still I believe that exactly this
idea of a possible revolutionary politics is necessary in order to
not succumb to the liberal promise that we are all liable for our
own luck.

The Research
Our local research project Modelling Vienna as part of a
larger research consortium comprising a team at the University
of Westminster, a team from the School of Architecture in Oslo,
and colleagues from Iceland – sets out to research the specific
practice of the Vienna model of public housing provision. The
research in Vienna will be conducted in two phases. The first
part is an endeavour to analyse the current model of public
housing provision, understanding the domain of housing
as a field that is crossed by many different professions and
disciplines. The research so far includes: the missing history of
Red Vienna’s post World War II legacy, interviews with experts
in Vienna, analysis of the discourse that occurs in and around
the model of housing provision, and reviews of cases (concrete
objects of the currently themed housing production, from the
»car-free settlement« to »young and affordable housing« to
»young architects«). In the second (future) phase the research
aims to develop alternative scenarios for a future model of
housing provision, beyond the simple binary of liberalism versus
socialism, engaging in the current state of austerity measures

Vienna Model of Social Housing Provision

Somehow the city of Vienna managed to keep its stock of
Gemeindebauten that the municipality had built since the early
1920s; additionally, in the 1990s it was able to rearrange the
production of public and social housing in a specific way: it
liberalized the system of social housing provision, securing its
leading position within the Vienna market. Thus the municipality
is still the main player setting the criteria for the production
of housing, actually owning or through subsidies indirectly
controlling about 50% of the housing stock in Vienna.

It thus has a huge influence on the private market of real estate and
through this, one can argue, has established a kind of alternative
economy in the city of Vienna.

Only slowly are we able to identify the limits of the system of
social housing provision and its alternative economy beyond an
obvious critique of the anachronistic and unbearable attitude of
the centralistic model of governance that is in place in Vienna.
And we start to understand how the overall highly successful
model of housing provision is coming under scrutiny and
being diluted by its actors (be it architects, be it developers,
be it politicans) unable to step outside the binary of liberalism
versus socialism. With the global financial crisis and an ever
more dominant dictum of austerity policy, even the City of
Vienna aims to consolidate its treasury and proposes supposedly
»innovative« ways of solving the problem of affordable
housing production with the introduction of the so-called
Wohnbauinitiative. The city hands out public money to socalled
private partners building large housing projects. In return
these new consortia of financial service providers and building
contractors are bound to a specific maximum rent for the next
10 years. At the same time, bottom-up initiatives promoting
Co-Housing have recently sprung up making themselves visible
within the city’s discourse …

In this issue of dérive we are able to present some of the
findings of our research so far. Starting with a genealogy of
publicly funded housing since the end of the World War II, the text investigates the alteration of a formerly ideologically coined
politics towards a liberalized system of an integrated housing
market in which Vienna’s municipality directly and indirectly
controls about the half of housing real estate in the Austrian
capital, and in which the boundaries between social housing and
private investment are blurry. The subsequent text presents parts
of a wider analysis of the discourse in and around the Vienna
model of housing provision, discussing the aspiration of the
city of Vienna to address a multitude of possible »consumers«.
A third text reports on a series of (anonymous) interviews
conducted by the research team last winter. The interviewees
speak about their personal prospects and challenges in the
Vienna housing provision. Finally, the concluding text tries
to frame the current situation by looking at the Superblock
turned Überstadt. The text aims to address the specific Viennese
situation and its innovative efforts.

All the texts in this issue of dérive are written in English
and accompanied by only a short abstract in German. This is
exceptional for dérive. After a long discussion the editorial team
and the authors decided to publish in English in order to make
this very special situation – the alternative economy in Vienna
beyond the mythic »Red Vienna« – accessible to a broader
international community. Thus the issue also contains a glossary
in which we have tried to translate specific concepts of the
Vienna discourse into English.

The Vienna research team includes Andreas Rumpfhuber,
Michael Klein, Georg Kolmayr, Teresa Klestorfer, and Lisa
Ehrenstrasser (until 09/2011). The project is funded by
the HERA Joint Research Program ( SCIBE
– Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment (www.scibe.
eu). It is hosted by the Institute of Design Assessment and the
Multidisciplinary Design Group at TU Vienna. We are grateful
to Professor Ina Wagner who facilitated our research proposal.

1) The City owns 27% of the housing stock in Vienna (Public
Housing, Gemeindebauten). A further 21% of the housing
stock is owned (and controlled) by limited profit housing
developers; they are socially bound, and through the
subsidies and the quality measures indirectly controlled by
the municipality.

Marazzi, Christian (2010): The Violence of Financial
Capitalism, Semiotext(e) intervention series, Los Angeles:
Engels, Friedrich (1872): The Housing Question. Online:

index.htm, German: Friedrich Engels: Zur
Tronti, Mario (1974): Arbeiter und Kapital. Frankfurt am
Main: Verlag Neue Kritik, (Italian Original: 1966; the text
Factory and Society was first published in: Quaderni Rossi,
2/1962, pp. 17—