Last month, 30+ West Coast delegates from the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, the Inland Empire, San Diego, and Portland, and sectors including philanthropy, government, research and academia, housing, homelessness, and advocacy, attended the Global Policy Leadership Academy’s Spring 2024 Immersive Social Housing Field Study in Vienna, Austria, to learn more about Vienna’s success in addressing the housing and homelessness crisis. Vienna’s housing model is world-renowned for its focus on high-quality housing available at an affordable price to more than 60% of its population.

Delegates participated in a six-day program featuring a mix of lectures, panels, and walking tours. GPLA and Viennese speakers touched on topics including the history of social housing; tenant protections, access, and support; social housing development; housing research and law; and race, refugees and housing. Delegates toured multiple social housing developments, including Karl Marx Hof, built in the post-WWI period and housing thousands of residents; Sonnwendviertel, a large-scale mixed-use residential districts centered on a 17-acre park; and Seestadt Aspern, one of the largest mixed-use urban redevelopment projects in Europe. Delegates were additionally able to interact with Viennese residents, advocates, government officials, and experts.

Delegates were struck by the inherent value that housing was considered a human right and the focus on providing affordable housing for a majority of its population including the middle class.  The participants were inspired by the focus on amenities and services provided to support the social wellbeing of the communities.

According to Gil Alvarado, Chief Financial Officer of the Conrad Prebys Foundation, “Global Policy Leadership Academy’s tour of Vienna social housing helps us see the big picture and potential for different types of housing in a global context. My team and I are taking home a variety of lessons we hope to explore for the good of the greater San Diego region.”

Heather Hood, Vice President, Enterprise Community Partners, added, “We get so used to living in and tweaking our system of financing and producing housing, as well as protecting affordability, that we forget just how kooky it is. Going to Vienna and learning how their system clearly expresses how housing can be “a human right” was helpful. Our cohort of fellow curious travelers could not only juxtapose our national and state systems to theirs but also get fairly detailed and practical about how systems in California could be much more straightforward. Such a meaningful opportunity and breadth of fresh air. We all felt reinvigorated.”

Corey Smith, Executive Director of Housing Action Coalition, noted, “GPLA’s trip to Vienna allowed me to see what a housing system should be about shared prosperity for everyone. When everyone has access to safe, affordable housing, society as a whole is better off.”

Damien O’Farrell, CEO of Parkview Legacy Foundation, further added, “The Vienna housing field study provides an essential baseline for understanding what now seems to me to be one of the world’s best models of community planning and development. The experience has already sparked local conversations for us about what might be possible to adapt and implement from the Vienna model, and we are very much looking forward to further brainstorming and innovating amongst members of our cohort as well as those of the past and future.”

As social housing continues to be featured in programs and legislation in the US, understanding successful models will be key to determining elements that can be adapted to local circumstances. GPLA builds these multisectoral delegations to ensure an enriching experiential learning opportunity and will be organizing the following future trips:

  • Summer 2024: July 14 – 20, 2024 (limited spots are still available; please contact [email protected] if interested)
  • Spring 2025: April 6 – 12, 2025
  • Fall 2025: September 21 – 27, 2025

Visit GPLA’s Social Housing Field Study website or contact [email protected] to learn more.

GPLA Vienna Social Housing Field Study

Related Articles

About the Author

Anu Natajaran
Anu Natarajan is an urban planner and designer with a unique perspective that has been defined by work experience in housing, land use planning, and development in the private, consulting, public, non-profit, and political sectors. She leads the Global Policy Leadership Academy's Vienna Social Housing Field Study program, grew up in Bangalore and graduated from Architecture School, and earned her Masters’s Degree in Urban Design and Planning at the University of Washington, Seattle. Biography | Email

Share This Article:

This Month’s Articles