A Viennese Waltz in Dublin


If you've been following the public discourse on housing over the last year you've probably got used to hearing about The Vienna Model and the idea that Vienna is a global leader in housing policy. Nearly 80% of people in that city rent, rather than buy, and over 60% of them are living in public housing with secure tenure and affordable rents.

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by Helen Shaw

Vienna celebrates 100 years of its community housing model this year and it's keen to export the ideas and thinking which it believes has made it a fair and equal place to live and work. But it is not just about bricks and mortar. The Vienna Model is, as Dáithí Downey of the Dublin Housing Observatory says ‘ a system within a system’. Public land is kept for public housing and the public housing stock is never sold. Equally the provision of public housing is not dependent on exchequer budgets (which can mean building is switched off in a recession) but funded by long term loans.


Property ownership and municipal housing standards in Vienna

source: City of Vienna - Wiener Wohnen, 2018

The city sees its role as ensuring there is a stable and secure stock of housing to meet a growing city (Vienna is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe, heading back to two million people) and besides its public housing, which provides homes for half a million people, it controls private rents, protects tenants, and bars short term letting (like airbnb) in its municipal, public housing stock.


In December 2018 I started this project with a trip to Vienna for the Housing for All conference, hosted by the City, and got to talk to many of the decision-makers there including Karin Ramser who heads Vienna's Community Housing Authority and wrote an essay about it. Karin is a quiet spoken, unassuming woman but her office take charge of 220,000 flats. As you walk through the city you see municipal maintenance vans zipping around and each block of housing usually displays the name of the block and the legend ‘built with public taxes’. “We want people to feel proud of what we’ve done with their taxes’ she says.


In Vienna social or subsidised housing is for all people not just those on low incomes or welfare. It's open to a broad middle class and MIchaela like Karin says one of the thing she is proud about is that no one can tell how much someone earns or their social class by their address. So The Vienna Model fundamentally thinks differently about the role of housing policy in a city.

For Viennese housing is about human rights and ensuring a city works for all, says Michaela Kauer, Director of the Vienna House in Brussels.


Michaela was the guest speaker at the recent seminars around The Vienna Model: Housing for the 21st Century, which took place in Dublin in April when an exhibition of the Vienna story of housing, its 100 years of communal living, was staged at three sites in the city

So we've created a short series of audio podcasts from the hours of audio recorded at those seminars to showcase the public conversation around The Vienna Model and those compelling ideas of how fair and equal housing can ensure a city works well for all, shapes a thriving economy and reduces anti social behaviour.

In our first podcast, What is the Vienna Model?  Michaela Kauer explains what the Vienna Model is and how it works. She describes the history of poverty and disease which prompted Vienna to take radical action and build 'palaces for the workers' and how, across 100 years, Vienna has invested in its housing system, and regardless of the political and economic wind, sees secure and quality housing as the foundation of its city. 

NESC Director Rory O'Donnell looks at the Vienna Model and the ideas behind it in relation to Ireland and sees both the potential and the challenges, particularly in funding, to drive development.

One of the central aspects of The Vienna Model is the concept of 'cost rental', municipal housing provided at cost not profit where the rent paid covers cost and maintenance but without profit to private developers. In cost rental schemes local authorities use public lands to build, or commission the building, of homes that will be rented at these more affordable costs.


In our second podcast 'How Do We Create Affordable Housing?'  we explore what is affordable housing, what it means, and how it can be delivered in Ireland. In this we hear from Jim Baneham of the Housing Agency and John Coleman of the new Land Development Agency who take up many of the points raised by O'Donnell about the challenge in making change and how scale, the need to go beyond pilots and a handful of projects, is critical.


The elements needed to change our housing policy from one that is dependent on the private market, and highly financialised, were caught by Coleman who talks of bringing together land, funding and commitment to really have an impact on the supply and to successfully develop affordable housing at scale.


Professor Michelle Norris, head of the school of social policy, UCD also shares her comparative research on Austria and Ireland and shows the key differences which have developed including Austria's approach to funding which means that unlike Ireland it continues to build and develop homes during economic downturns as its funding model is not dependent on the exchequer.

Ireland's experience of boom bust economics, where property became a profit-led financial asset and investment, left Ireland with ghost estates and poor quality private homes at the end of the boom while the recession saw building switched off. Our housing crisis is the child of this 'boom-bust' market.


Our third podcast 'Re-Imagining Ballymun' reflects the two days of talks in Ballymun's Rediscovery Centre and we hear the story of an area that has suffered from that switched off, in that Ballymun was in the midst of a major regeneration programme by the time the recession hit in 2009.

Pamela Connolly, a Dublin town planner, shares the story of remobilising that regeneration programme while Dr Sarah Miller, the scientist who heads the Rediscovery Centre, gives an insight into how Ballymun is at the cutting edge of the 'green economy' as its now the National Centre for the Circular Economy - where materials and good are reused and recycled into new goods and uses.

Robert Murphy, is a Ballymun local, and chair of Ballymun 4 Business, and while Ballymun is still missing key elements of community life, including things like shops and community facilities like cafés, he sees Ballymun as showing the way in how communities can come together and work together for change.

One interesting development in Ballymun is co-housing being built by O'Cualann Co-Housing at Poppintree, (we talked to Hugh Brennan about it in November 2018) and Padraig Flynn of SOA Self Organised Architecture shows innovative models of co-housing from across Europe.


Our final podcast in this series. 'Visions for the Future' looks to what's happening on the ground and hears from community leaders, Eilish Comerford of St Michael's Family Resource Centre, Rita Fagan of St Michael's Regeneration Team, and David Joyce of Mercy Law Resource Centre about their take on affordable housing, municipal action and the cost rental model.


St Michael's Estate in Dublin 8 has had a long and protracted regeneration programme which was also badly impacted by the recession. But both Eilish and Rita are supportive of the cost rental scheme which is now being introduced there although both of them are concerned at the slow speed of implementation and the fear that delays will undermine it. They are also concerned about just how 'affordable' the flats will be by the time they are completed.

In an affordable model, affordability is based on the % of income to rent/mortgage, but with escalating building costs even a non profit cost rental scheme will mean rents will be 1,200 according to Jim Baneham when he talked about the first scheme now underway in Sandyford.

Karin explains that in Vienna someone's address can not tell you how much they earn or what social class they are. ‘We don’t have areas in Vienna where, as a woman, you are afraid to go when it’s dark.’Karin explains that in Vienna someone's address can not tell you how much they earn or what social class they are. ‘We don’t have areas in Vienna where, as a woman, you are afraid to go when it’s dark.’

New funding models are key to creating affordability and Cormac Murphy, CEO of the European Investment Bank welcomed the view, raised by Rory O'Donnell, that the EIB is interested in supporting scale and being a player in the development of affordable housing. For him the Land Development Agency is a 'game changer' potentially bringing land, funding and commitment together. 

The podcasts in this series, The Vienna Model: Housing for the 21st Century, have been supported by the Dublin Housing Observatory, the research and development unit at Dublin City Council and for anyone interested in seeing more The Vienna Model: Housing for the 21st Century is returning to the Dublin City Council Civic Offices at Wood Quay for July.  So pop in and have a look.

If you want to read rather than listen we have full transcripts of the podcasts via a link in the show notes of the podcasts.

For more about our series This is Where We Live subscribe to the podcasts in platforms like Anchor, Soundcloud, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts & Stitcher - please do rate, review and share.

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Our thanks, as always, to Happy Scribe for helping us to make the series.  

John Howard