Crisis at the Gemeindebau

Required renovations and rising energy costs are squeezing residents of Vienna’s community housing

News | Jie Lian | February 2009

A Gemeindebau in the 22nd district; rents in subsidized housing is rising (Photo: Lauren Brassaw)

The tenants in the Viennese community apartments, Gemeindebau, may not afford their apartments much longer as rents continue to climb, reflecting costs of renovations – over which residents have no discretion – as well as higher management fees and energy costs.

The renovations have already started in many Gemeindebau, changes that in some cases will result in a doubling of the rent.

There are about 727 flats in total in the Goethehof apartment building in Kaisermühlen. It includes three attractive inner courtyards with shared gardens and landscaping. Over the next four years, the facade will become reinforced by a new thermal insulation; four thousand windows need to be changed and 46 elevators are scheduled to be built.

Residents of the Goethehof seemed unwilling to speak at length about the renovation during a visit in November. They did say, however, that they had not been informed in advance by the city and were now worried that they might not be able to afford living there any longer. The Bürgermeister assured them that the rent would stay.

City Councilman Michael Ludwig, spokesperson for the residential building department, sought to assuage this fear, claiming that the rent would not be allowed to rise more than EUR 1.71 per square meter.

Meanwhile, energy costs rise sharply as temperatures fall. For many people, even heat may become a luxury. The price of household energy has increased an average of 5.1%, with the fuel oil portion up a full 23%, since this time last year. And consumers may be required to pay a EUR 120 deposit on energy deliveries, according to a letter from Wien Energie recently sent to residents. Poorer households appear to have to pay 30-40% more than the average family, so claims E-Control chief Walter Boltz in an interview with Die Presse on November 21st.

At the same time, basic living costs in Austria continue to rise. A recent study by Statistik Austria shows that the price of food and nonalcoholic drinks are most influenced by the inflation (an average increase of 4.8% as of 2007); in September, the rate increased 6.7%. The largest change was for bread and grains, 9% higher than last year. Meat rose 5%; sugar, jam, honey, and candies 6%, vegetables 3%, and fruits 4%. Thus, many Viennese now expect the supermarkets to be forced to offer regular discounts in an effort to maintain sales to hard hit consumers.

Gemeindebau municipal apartments were originally a project of the Social Democratic Party of Austria, begun under the First Republic following World War I. Its goal was to improve living conditions for the working class. Today, the apartments are open to a wide range of people – not necessarily poor – who rent the apartments from the municipality. About 600,000 people, one third of the Viennese population, live in these city apartments, with another 16,000 people on the waiting list.

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