Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Friday

Find out what's going on in Austria on Friday with The Local's short roundup of today's important news.

Dachshund Archibald enjoys a drink in Seestadt, a suburb of Vienna in Austria during the heatwave (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
Dachshund Archibald enjoys a drink in Seestadt, a suburb of Vienna in Austria during the heatwave (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Warnings over Delta variant from Austria’s Covid-19 commission

Austria’s Coronavirus Traffic Light Commission is concerned about the spread of the delta variant and warns of a “systemic risk” in summer, broadcaster ORF reports. However the commission also stated on Thursday that the Covid-19 risk assessment for all of Austria and for all federal states was to be classified as low”.

The delta variant, or the virus mutation B.1.617.2, is not only more infectious than previous mutations, but also lead to more severe courses of the disease, especially in the non-vaccinated population.

Around 6.3 percent of cases in Austria involve the delta variant, which initially appeared on a large scale in India. The commission called for faster vaccination and more PCR testing.

READ MORE: What is Austria’s new five-colour Covid traffic light system?

Seven day incidence is 15.5

The 7 day incidence, or the number of new infections with the coronavirus in the past seven days per 100,000 inhabitants, is 15.5. No federal state has a value more than 30, Styria (7.3), Salzburg (8.8) and Burgenland (8.5) are below, Carinthia at 10.0. Vienna has the highest value with 29.2.

Further easing of coronavirus pandemic measures in July

As The Local reported on Thursday, further easing of coronavirus pandemic restrictions are set for July, though the 3G requirement (showing proof that you have been vaccinated, have tested negative or have recovered from the virus) will stay in place.

Bars and restaurants will no longer have to close at midnight, while capacity and space restrictions will be dropped in almost all industries.

Drinking at the bar and dancing will be allowed again and clubs can open up again to 75 percent capacity. In addition, the FFP2 mask rules for shops and restaurants will be relaxed


Million pound cycle path project for Salzburg

The city of Salzburg will create a major cycle path costing one million euros. It will stretch for one kilometer along the Innsbruck main road between the Maxglaner junction and the airport underpass. Construction is to start in 2022. 

Bonus for hospital and care staff

Austria’s National Council decided on Thursday on a bonus for employees in hospitals and care homes because of the coronavirus pandemic. It should average out at around 500 euros per person. The ruling coalition (ÖVP and Greens) said it meant the work of these people during the pandemic would be recognised, the opposition criticised a “wishy-washy motion” in which numerous employees had been forgotten. Cleaning staff will be included in the bonus scheme but not builders.

Individual states or institutions can decide what bonus is appropriate, for example in the case of a worker in intensive care or on a Covid-19 ward. 

Tyrol Governor wants to shoot local wolves

Austria’s Agricultural Councillor Josef Geisler (ÖVP) is hoping to follow Finland’s example and make it legal to shoot “problem wolves” in Tyrol. Wolves should be shot there if herd protection measures do not work, Geisler told the APA. This year, there has been one wolf and four bear attacks which have led to farm animals being killed in Tyrol.

Last year  there were 250 incidents in which sheep and goats were injured or disappeared due to large predators. Geisler said in nearby Italian Trentino, around 100 young wolves are born every year. 

READ MORE: Seven hazards to avoid when you’re outside in Austria

Compulsory vaccination for new hospital staff in Styria 

In Styria, new employees in hospitals must be vaccinated against Covid-19, following a meeting – this is the direction in which representatives of Med-Uni, hospitals and the state of Styria on Thursday afternoon. As The Local reported on Thursday, this is already the case in Vienna. 

READ MORE: Covid-19 vaccinations compulsory for all new health and social workers in Vienna

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EXPLAINED: Why is finding housing in Salzburg so difficult?

Rent prices in Salzburg are increasing more than anywhere else in Austria. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: Why is finding housing in Salzburg so difficult?

The city of Salzburg is experiencing a housing crisis, fuelled by property investors, limited building space and increasingly tourism-focused infrastructure.

“In the last five years, prices have risen enormously. Much more than income levels,” says Inge Strassl, project leader for housing research at the Salzburg Institute for Housing and Regional Planning (SIR).

In the city of Salzburg, locals and newcomers alike are running up against sky-high prices and limited options when it comes to finding an apartment or home. The city’s housing crisis is the result of a slew of factors driving up demand, even when it seems there is no shortage of living space in the city and surrounding region.

“It’s not a question of whether we have enough apartments—but they aren’t always in the right place,” Strassl told The Local. “The main problem is that it’s becoming too expensive for the average person.”

Since at least 2005, the state of Salzburg has topped the charts for rent prices compared to other Austrian states, according to SIR’s latest report. In that time, Austria has seen an average rent increase of 57 percent, bringing a typical Salzburger’s rent from 6.50 euros per square meter up to 9.90 euros by 2020.

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For those looking to buy, the leap in property value was even more stark. From 2009 to 2019, the sales price for new homes inside the city jumped by 70 percent, while the price tag on existing homes nearly doubled.

Today, a 150 square meter apartment or house on the city outskirts can sell for one million euros or more.

New tenants face elevated costs

Compared to the rest of the world, Austria’s rent-to-income ratio is fairly middling—about 20 percent of the average Austrian’s income went to rent in 2019, according to a recent OECD study.

That’s higher than Germany and the EU as a whole, but lower than France, Italy, Switzerland and the United States.

What the numbers don’t show though, is which groups have access to more affordable housing, and how much more money new tenants are paying compared to the old. On this issue, Salzburg is the perfect case study.

Bernhard Gugg, a housing researcher with SIR, told The Local that new tenants can expect shorter rent contracts and more frequent price hikes than in previous years.

READ MORE: Is it better to buy or to rent property in Austria?

“Around two-thirds of new rent contracts are set for three years,” Gugg says. “After it expires, landlords can actually raise the price again.”

According to Gugg, the current rent price on the market is around 17 euros per square meter, including upkeep. In Austria, it’s typical for a landlord to charge three month’s rent as a security fee, while real estate brokers often charge another two month’s rent for their services. 

That means the upfront fee to move into a two-room apartment in Salzburg could total up to 5,400 euros for the first month.

Inaccessible subsidised housing

Gugg also says that newcomers, especially non-Austrians, have trouble accessing Salzburg’s more affordable subsidised housing, which makes up approximately one quarter of the city’s housing stock.

“That’s not available for internationals, or for people who move here for studies or work,” Gugg says. Only five-year residents of the city are eligible to apply.

But even locals face a long waiting list. According to Strassl, low turnover in the city’s subsidised housing stock is further exacerbating Salzburg’s housing crisis.

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“The problem is that people don’t move out of these apartments again,” Strassl says. “They stay, and want to live there forever. So there is no exchange.”

As a result, groups that normally rely on lower-priced housing for their first apartment or home have to look elsewhere—and that often means settling for cramped or lower-quality housing on the private market.

“It’s the younger population and the young families,” Strassl says, that are feeling the brunt of the impact—especially immigrants. She has come across many immigrant families with several children, often having to live in small, two-room apartments.

“The private rent is so high that it’s not possible to save a lot of money,” she says. “It’s creating a split—the gap is widening,” she says, between renters and owners.

A focus on tourism is a major reason why the cost of living is so high in the Austrian city of Salzburg. Photo by zhang xiaoyu on Unsplash

A focus on tourism is a major reason why the cost of living is so high in the Austrian city of Salzburg. Photo by zhang xiaoyu on Unsplash

Empty buildings and restricted space drive up demand

Salzburg’s housing availability is also being diminished by a recent boom in the purchase of property for investment—houses and apartment buildings that investors often leave empty because they generate income all by themselves, without the need for tenants.

The city’s real estate sites are full of advertisements geared toward investors, complete with annual profit estimates. One listing on the housing board run by Salzburger Nachrichten is titled: “Apartment package: 4 top-rented investment apartments with a yield of 2.9%.”

In order to capitalise on the profits, Gugg says, private building companies are snapping up land in a city with restricted space.

“What’s quite difficult in Salzburg is that you really don’t get a lot of new land for any kind of development—not just housing,” he says. That steep competition makes it hard for affordable-housing associations to recoup their costs and keep prices low for residents.

According to Strassl, many properties in the city, old and new, are bought up by small investors looking for a place to park their money instead of the bank.

“In the city of Salzburg, you can be sure that [a property] will not lose it’s worth,” Strassl says. “Of the people who buy them, not all rent them again, so there are a lot of apartments now that are sold and not used.”

A 2015 SIR study found that about 3,500 viable living spaces in the city remain vacant year-round, inaccessible to the public. While that’s only about 4 percent of the available supply, it’s indicative of a growing market, that—combined with Salzburg’s restricted building space—is pushing some residents out.

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A blessing and a curse

There’s one final factor putting pressure on Salzburg’s housing market, wrapped up with all the rest: Salzburg’s allure for tourists, vacationers and second-home buyers.

The city’s “attractiveness is not only a blessing for Salzburg, but also a curse,” reports a 2019 study out of the Salzburg University Geography Department.

Salzburg’s charming surroundings, comfortable amenities and cultural tourism draw millions of visitors over the course of a normal year. In 2019, Salzburg hosted three million overnight stays—approximately 8,200 additional residents each day of the year in a city of 155,000. 

According to the study, tourism in Salzburg has captured a large swath of housing, including vacation homes and short-term rentals posted through portals like Airbnb, which often remain partially empty during the year. At least 17 percent of living spaces in the city are secondary residences, while the number of short-term rentals is hard to quantify.

What’s clear is that Salzburg’s city centre is remarkably vacant of local residents. The resident population there fell 15 percent in the ten years leading up to 2019, says the study, as the city’s changing infrastructure increasingly accommodates tourists.

Strassl says the price jumps and high demand haven’t stopped there. “It’s extreme in the city, but it’s also coming around in the surrounding area. In the whole region of Salzburg, you will not find a really cheap place.”