There's No Place Like Home You Can Afford

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When prices of real estate in cities rise all around the world, the question of housing affordability becomes crucial. It’s not only a question of accommodation but also of diversity, dignity, and equality. In this episode of NARA podcast we dive into the social housing system in Vienna, Austria, which is open not only for poverty-stricken communities but also for the middle class.

A Viennese artist Markus lives in a social housing flat for ten years. He pays 400 euros per month to rent a two-room apartment instead of at least 600 euros. The difference in the price is covered by the municipality of Vienna.

"It's been very crucial for me that I live in a cheap apartment because I was able for the past five years to build a career as an artist. These 200 euros definitely made a huge difference because with that money I was able to pay for the art supplies that I needed for painting. It's very expensive to be a painter," Markus says.

<p>Markus in his apartment.</p>

Markus in his apartment.

<p>Markus and NARA journalist Indrė Kiršaitė.</p>

Markus and NARA journalist Indrė Kiršaitė.

Around 80 percent of the city's residents are eligible to apply for a social housing flat. Vienna is the biggest public owner of social housing estates in Europe. It owns about 220 thousand flats.

<p>Sonnwendviertel is one of the newest housing developments in Vienna. Social housing apartments and other state-sponsored housing schemes exist along privately-owned flats here.</p>

Sonnwendviertel is one of the newest housing developments in Vienna. Social housing apartments and other state-sponsored housing schemes exist along privately-owned flats here.

One could assume that the rest of the apartments belong to individual private owners. However, almost the same amount of flats are owned cooperatively.

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All in all, this makes Vienna a city of renters. Around 60 percent of the city's residents currently live in one of the schemes provided by the social housing system in the country.

<p>Gerald Kössl is a sociologist and a researcher at The Austrian Federation of Limited-Profit Housing Associations.</p>

Gerald Kössl is a sociologist and a researcher at The Austrian Federation of Limited-Profit Housing Associations.

"It‘s not just a system where the state has to put in a lot of money. It is actually quite the opposite: the state and the public purse benefits in many ways by providing affordable housing," says Gerald Kössl, a sociologist and a researcher who focuses on housing and its inequalities.

One of the differences between Vienna and other cities in the world is that social housing flats here are incorporated in all districts and most of them are mixed with privately-owned flats in the buildings. It helps to tackle stigma in social housing.

<p>Despite being valued by its inhabitants, Sonnwendviertel still lacks green areas. On hot summer days streets get empty.</p>

Despite being valued by its inhabitants, Sonnwendviertel still lacks green areas. On hot summer days streets get empty.

One of the largest newly-developed accommodation projects in Vienna is the quarter called Sonnwendviertel. As we were walking around we met Michael sitting on a curb. He is a specialist in telecommunication and technical support and a father of two.

<p>Michael with his two kids.</p>

Michael with his two kids.

"The whole quarter was built five-six years ago. Everything is completely new. It was built instead of a big railway station here," Michael says.

Sonnwendviertel is split by tramway rails right in the middle. To our surprise, so close to them that it’s almost on them there was a garden. An older man was working inside, watering plants.

<p>Werner is one of those who participated in establishing this garden from the very beginning.</p>

Werner is one of those who participated in establishing this garden from the very beginning.

Werner himself does not live in Sonnwendviertel. However, because the new neighborhoods are so mixed, connecting groups of different ages and classes and prioritizing common areas, other residents can also use various infrastructural facilities of these developments and contribute to the wider well-being of the community. This way the community grows stronger and can better represent its interests when problems arise.

<p>"I'm one of the 70 people who have a raised bed here. Each of us is assigned a week once a year for gardening duty. People leave signs like 'please water this' or do whatever needs to be done," Werner says.</p>

"I'm one of the 70 people who have a raised bed here. Each of us is assigned a week once a year for gardening duty. People leave signs like 'please water this' or do whatever needs to be done," Werner says.

We also went to a place called "Bikes and Rails" located near the garden. On the first floor of the house, in a cafe, we found Philipp who lives and works here. Little did we know that this house and the community living in it, a syndicate, is one of the most special in the whole district.

" > <p>Philipp lives in a self-organized cooperative house and runs a cafe "Flöge" which is one of the social spaces in the house.</p>

Philipp lives in a self-organized cooperative house and runs a cafe "Flöge" which is one of the social spaces in the house.

This newly-built apartment building is owned by residents who have joined the association "Bikes and Rails". It belongs to an umbrella association called "HABITAT" which came up with this alternative communal ownership scheme that unites people with similar values and ideas.

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The episode is a part of the festival "LT.art Vienna".

The voice-over was recorded at Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania. We thank Lina Piskernik for helping with German translation and Karolis Pilypas Liutkevičius for dubbing it.

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