Will Merrifield is running on a Green New Deal Recovery Plan anchored by a public infrastructure project and guaranteed jobs program to build thousands of units of Social Housing to solve the affordable housing crisis. Social Housing is a proven model of publicly controlled, permanently affordable, mixed-income housing that pays for itself. This, plus intentional investment in strong neighborhood public schools and public health infrastructure, will lay the foundation for safer and healthier communities. This campaign convened an international panel with a representative from Vienna, Austria, which has the world’s most successful Social Housing program, to bring this model to DC. You can find a recording of that panel here.
We’ve also compiled a list of resources below so you can learn more about how the model works in other countries and what it would look like in DC. We’re fighting for an actual solution to the housing crisis – join us!
A People’s Policy Project Paper by Peter Gowan and Ryan Cooper
“Many American cities face a severe shortage of affordable housing — and not just for the poor, but well up into the upper-middle class. A recent report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies concluded: “The rental market thus appears to be settling into a new normal where nearly half of renter households are cost burdened,” or paying more than 30 percent of their income in rent. What these cities need is a dramatic increase in the number of mid-range and affordable dwellings to ease the price pressure on their rental markets. They should address the problem directly: by constructing a large number of government-owned municipal housing developments. Unlike traditional American public housing, all city residents will be eligible to live there.”
Progressives in the D.C. region are increasingly embracing “social housing” as a bold solution to high home prices. Could it work?
“Public housing” isn’t such a loaded term in Vienna, Austria. In the European capital, public housing is attractive and well-maintained. It’s located near schools, transit and cultural amenities. It’s home to singles, families and senior citizens — and most important, it’s mixed-income, with affluent Viennese sharing walls with working-class residents. Could such housing exist in the D.C. region? Increasingly, progressives are saying “yes.” In Maryland, Del. Vaughn Stewart is introducing legislation to create the state’s first “social housing” program. In the District of Columbia, Will Merrifield, a candidate for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council, has made European-style public housing a pillar of his platform. The idea is gaining ground nationally, too, boosted by the presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.”
Subsidizing market prices to make housing affordable is a losing strategy. There’s a better way—on display for a century in Vienna.
“American visitors to Vienna are typically struck by the absence of homeless people on the streets. And if they ventured around the city, they’d discover that there are no neighborhoods comparable to the distressed ghettos in America’s cities, where high concentrations of poor people live in areas characterized by high levels of crime, inadequate public services, and a paucity of grocery stores, banks, and other retail outlets. Since the 1920s, Vienna has made large investments in social housing owned or financed by the government. But unlike public housing in the United States, Vienna’s social housing serves the middle class as well as the poor, and has thus avoided the stigma of being either vertical ghettos or housing of last resort. Every country in Western Europe has some version of social housing, but Vienna’s is by far the largest and most successful. It is typically ranked as one of the world’s most livable cities.”
Economically diverse housing complexes, owned by the community, could answer the need for affordable units in Boston and other cities.
“Social housing refers to social ownership — an arrangement in which housing is owned either by taxpayers or a collective of residents. Better yet, social housing is built to encourage integration between social classes. The mixed-income nature of Vienna’s social housing means that you’re just as likely to live next to a subway-car driver or a lawyer. You could hang out with them in your building’s centralized courtyard and catch up over a few bottles of beer, or you might bump into them at the built-in library. You’re each paying a quarter of your income in rent. Like every major US city, Boston has capitulated to the idea that housing should be left to the market. Our strategy of persuading developers to add a fixed number of affordable units to market-rate projects has failed. Clearly, bolder ideas are needed — like rethinking the very nature of public housing, including what it looks like and who lives in it.”
Vienna has figured out how to offer high-quality apartments with low-cost rent and renters’ rights that would be unheard of in the United States. Advocates say it’s a model worth examining.
“A unique system nearly a century in the making has created a situation today in which the city government of Vienna either owns or directly influences almost half the housing stock in the capital city. As a result, residents enjoy high-quality apartments with inexpensive rent, along with renters’ rights that would be unheard of in the U.S. The Viennese have decided that housing is a human right so important that it shouldn’t be left up to the free market. Advocates for the Vienna model say it’s something U.S. policymakers should examine closely.”