The Solution

Why publicly financed housing?

For low income families, there are multiple ways to provide housing assistance. Why publicly financed housing? Why not another program, such as vouchers? First, let us say that we have nothing against vouchers. They’re an important tool in our housing policy toolkit. Yet publicly financed housing has advantages that voucher programs lack.

The first of these is public asset creation. By owning the housing, the public creates something which will provide benefits for decades. Vouchers, once spent, are gone. High quality public housing has the ability to last, creating “social assets” that work for us over many decades. This helps us spend public dollars with more efficiency over the long term.

Lots of publicly financed housing can also help the overall housing market. This impact is qualitatively different than a similar market unit because publicly financed units are priced according to income. Economists call this “differential pricing” and it is acknowledged to have major advantages. By offering units at reduced rates based on income, demand for higher priced market rate units is maintained which supports the production of more units. Often, today’s high-priced units become middle- and low-priced units decades from now. Meanwhile, as these private units age into affordability, low- and middle-income people can find publicly financed housing they can afford. Also, publicly financed units tend to be less sensitive to economic downturns. This helps provide a steady flow of capital and keep the building industry from suffer from boom and bust cycles which drive up costs. Together, sufficient supply of public and privately financed housing units can help ensure that the housing market meets everyone’s needs.

Housing Now Seattle is committed to Re-imagining Affordable Housing. As we do this, we take inspiration from one city which has led the way when it comes to both quantity and quality publicly financed housing: Vienna


The Vienna Model

Vienna is a superstar when it comes to publicly financed  or “social” housing. It all began in the aftermath of World War I when overcrowding was a huge problem.  The municipal government set out to alleviate this by constructing tens of thousands of units. They utilized local taxes, a Federal block grant, and high quality apartment buildings, most of which are still in use. After World War II they went right back to work, renovating existing units and build new ones up until the present day.

Some facts about Vienna Social housing:

  • Over 25% of housing publicly financed

  • Over 20% publicly subsidized and regulated

  • High quality construction makes publicly financed housing in high demand

  • Developer compete based on economics, quality, and ecological impact

More information:

The City of Vienna maintains a website (in English and German) about their experience with and research into social housing.

The Museum of Vancouver is running an exhibit on Vienna’s model of social housing

May 17th to July 16th, 2017.

Additional articles:

Public Housing Works: Lessons from Vienna and Singapore -

Vienna’s Unique Social Housing Program - HUD


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