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Austria: Is Vienna really a ‘renter’s paradise’? 

Austria: Is Vienna really a 'renter's paradise'? 
ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP
Vienna's commitment to social housing has given it the 'renter's paradise' nickname. But is this nickname deserved?

Vienna has the highest salaries in Austria, but not the highest rents.

One of the major reasons for this is the city’s social housing stock. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Vienna’s commitment to social housing

One reason for Vienna’s relatively low rents is the large amount of social housing – ranging from the famous Hundertwasser House to the Art Nouveau “red housing” buildings such as Karl-Marx-Hof in the 19th District. 

Close to sixty percent of Vienna’s inhabitants live in municipal housing estates or in dwellings subsidised by the City of Vienna, according to the Stadt Wien website. 

Since Vienna’s first municipal housing complex, the Metzleinstaler Hof, was built in 1920, the City of Vienna has built 220,000 municipal dwellings (Gemeinde Wohnung) for half a million tenants and contributed to the building of a further 200,000 subsidised apartments.

One in four Viennese people lives in a Gemeinde Wohnung, or a council flat owned by the city of Vienna, and rented out cheaply with open-ended tenancy agreements, according to Wohnberatung Wien

More recently similar subsidised apartments have also become available for people on low incomes, as part of the SMART homes project. 

SMART flats are cheap, but smaller than traditional Gemeinde Wohnung.

READ MORE: Which of Austrian state has the cheapest rents based on your salary 

What is a Gemeinde Wohnung (subsidised apartment)?

Vienna’s investment in subsidised apartments started after the First World War. Between 1923 and 1934 alone, apartments for more than 200,000 people were built.

It was around this time that the idea of Vienna being a ‘renter’s paradise’ became widely shared, particularly in German-speaking countries

Currently, the largest ‘property manager’ in all of Europe is Wiener Wohnen – an organisation 100 percent owned by the city which operates 220,000 apartments in the city. 

Vienna’s rental system attracts international attention as the social housing has far more facilities than other typical social housing in different countries and cities. 

Many of these community buildings have green inner courtyards, sometimes there are playgrounds, kindergartens and various community facilities such as hobby rooms and laundry rooms.

Some even feature a sauna or swimming pool.

So how easy it is actually to get your hands on a Gemeinde Wohnung (GW), or Viennese council house? 

In theory, all you need to do is get a Wiener Wohn-Ticket from Wohnberatung Wien, and fulfil the basic requirements which are: 

  • Being over 17 years old
  • Having a two-year permanent main residence at a current Viennese address,
  • Austrian or EU citizenship 
  • Falling below the existing income limit of €47.740 (net). 

In addition, there should be additional justifications such as overcrowding, starting a household or age-related or illness-related reasons. 

Social housing in Vienna (Photo by ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP)

In practice, many people living in Vienna say it is not easy to secure a GW, describing the process as “tiresome” and “complicated”. 

Similar requirements apply if you want to get an apartment with the SMART homes initiative, which are also distributed through Wohnberatung Wien.

According to Germany’s Stern magazine, who discussed a study on Vienna’s social housing scheme in 2020, the reputation of Vienna as a “renter’s paradise is unfortunately a myth”. 

As private rents have become more expensive in Vienna, you can expect to languish longer on the waiting list.

In addition, people who already have a GW can pass it on to family members under certain circumstances, reducing the number of apartments available for newcomers to Vienna.

It also takes longer if you want to live in a fancy district or hold out for apartment features such as a balcony.

REVEALED: The best districts to live in Vienna

If you are lucky enough to get a GW, there are other aspects which can drive up the costs – and which are less frequently talked about. 

For instance, operating, repair and maintenance costs are much more frequently passed on to tenants than in private rentals – with these costs rarely appearing as part of the ‘rent’. 

I don’t meet the criteria for a Gemeinde Wohnung, what other options do I have?

Genossenschaft Wohnungen (co-operative housing built by a non-profit organisation)  could be an option for people who earn too much to qualify for a Gemeinde Wohnung in Vienna.

Getting a Genossenschaft Wohnung means that you pay a large deposit on an apartment (typically several thousand euros towards construction) and then can live there with a significantly reduced rent.

However, some Genossenschaft Wohnungen schemes do have income restrictions.

The other disadvantage is many are located far outside the city. 

Private renting 

According to the Mietmonitor planning unit of TUI University in Vienna’s website, people in Vienna today have to pay far more for rent than they did a decade ago.

Rents have increased faster than the rest of the housing market, outstripping general inflation and income growth. 

From 2008 to 2016 rents in Vienna increased by 53 percent, while disposable income only increased by 22 percent. 

However, although both buying and renting in Vienna are expensive, it is far more affordable to live in Austria’s capital city than Paris, London and Munich, according to the Deloittes 2019 property index.


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