Dublin turns to Vienna for affordable housing solution

Vienna has developed a hugely successful housing rental model that could work here

What can Dublin housing experts learn from Vienna where two-thirds of the city's inhabitants live in public housing was the question being asked at the launch of the exhibition, The Vienna Model – Housing for the 21st Century in CHQ Dublin docklands.

The exhibition shows how Vienna – often ranked first in international quality of living scales – has developed a cost-rental housing model [the price tenants pay is based on construction and maintenance costs, not market rent] in well designed, adaptable and inclusive neighbourhoods.

It also explains the historic context of how the City of Vienna owns over 220,000 homes with another 200,000 provided by limited-profit housing associations. And, how three quarters of the city’s 1.9 million inhabitants rent apartments, many of which have terraced balconies, rooftop gardens and communal courtyards. About half of the population in Vienna were born outside of Austria.

Average rent

"Six hundred euros is an average rent for a two-bedroom apartment [50sq m/538sq ft] close to the city centre," explains architect, Helene Schauer, who travelled from Vienna for the exhibition. And interestingly, many housing blocks are designed with fewer car spaces as sustainability experts predict 21st century living will move from a culture of ownership to a culture of sharing.


Qualification depends on a means test – an income of €3,300 a month or less for a single person – but is also needs-based. Growing families can apply for a move to a bigger flat; similarly, older tenants can apply to downsize or move to an apartment with a lift.

"It's timely to consider new models for Dublin; up to now there is a big gap in Ireland between social housing and private housing when you consider over 80 per cent of people own their homes in Dublin," says Brendan Kenny, deputy chief executive of Dublin City Council in charge of housing.

Kenny says that policy and strategic change would be required for the Vienna model to work in Dublin. “There has been a scarcity of land and Dublin City Council owns very little of it. Construction costs are also very high in Dublin. Dublin City Council needs the freedom to buy further land to develop a new model of housing for Dublin and there is a huge role for the non-profit housing associations to be involved in this,” he adds. Kenny points to two current cost-rental developments in Dublin City Council – St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore and another in Ballymun.

David Silke, director of research at the Housing Agency, says that a significant difference between Vienna and Dublin is that in Vienna, there has been a very steady construction programme to respond to current and future needs. "The cost-rental model is particularly good for long-term, affordable homes for those on a low and middle income. Vienna has had 100 years to develop this model. But we are at a point when housing is in very low supply," he says.


According to Silke, people in Dublin are already switching from home ownership to rental accommodation – whether for lifestyle or affordability reasons. "The Vienna model would require us to identify State land to build on for a sustainable housing market with long-term economic benefits," he added. With the Land Development Agency, the Housing Agency is about to embark on a development of 105 social and 50 cost-rental homes in Stepaside, Co Dublin.

Hugh Brennan from Ó Cualann Cohousing Alliance, which is involved in cost-rental housing developments in Dublin, says that affordability is the key. "Nobody should pay more than one third of their net income on housing needs. Affordability is all about what you earn and we'd like to see the income limits scrapped for social housing [in Ireland] and a variable subsidy introduced instead to include people on annual incomes from €40,000 to €90,000," he says. "We'd argue that to build affordable housing, no land should be sold to developers by the Land Development Agency or county councils for the next 10 years," says Brennan. He added that he believed 25 per cent of the Industrial Development Authority land should also be made available for affordable housing.

Dáithi Downey, head of housing policy research at Dublin City Council, says he found Vienna’s “jury system” for planning developments particularly inspiring. Downey travelled to Vienna with Dublin city councillors to attend the Housing for All conference there in December 2018. “In Vienna, all subsidised housing has to follow four criteria – planning, costs, ecology and social sustainability. Architects, landscape planners, ecologists, economists and sociologists are on this jury whose binding decisions result in the provision of land and subsidies,” he explains.

Downey is also impressed by Vienna’s imaginative approach to building homes in city land zoned for agricultural or industry. At the Dublin seminar Vienna-based architect Mark Gilbert described a rapid-build social housing programme where 255 apartments with lightweight construction were built on commercial land for a 10-year occupancy after which the building would be converted back for industrial use. He pointed to another project in which housing was built on agricultural land using construction methods which allowed the building to be moved to another site after 10 years.

“These projects show how housing can be provided in an innovative way by adapting the land use over time. It’s more sustainable and more affordable,” says Downey.

The free exhibition, The Vienna Model – Housing for the 21st Century runs in the Rediscovery Centre, Ballymun, from April 10th-13th, and in Richmond Barracks, Inchicore, from April 15th-25th with seminars in each venue.