24 Jul Lessons in Social Housing: LTSC’s Eye-Opening Visit to Vienna
In June 2023, LTSC’s Debbie Chen, Director of Real Estate, spent 5 days in Vienna with the Vienna Social Housing Delegation. Organized by Lesar Development Consultants and the Global Policy Leadership Academy, Debbie joined City and County of Los Angeles staff, funders, community organizations and other nonprofit developers in studying Vienna’s innovative social housing model. After meeting with Viennese housing departments, land banks, social service agencies, and visiting social housing developments, Debbie reflects on Vienna’s model and LTSC’s role in pushing LA’s affordable housing sector forward.
What were some notable moments from your trip?
Debbie: Just a few days before the trip, the New York Times published a piece on Vienna’s social housing model–and we were able to visit two of the iconic social housing buildings mentioned in the article: Alt-Erlaa and Karl Marx Hof. We met with the Viennese housing department and exchanged notes on best practices, values and systems with some of the officials and delegates. And, we also had the opportunity to meet with the leader of Black Voices, an Austrian anti-racism nonprofit group, who discussed the impact of racism within Vienna’s social housing.
What were your impressions of Vienna’s social housing model, after seeing it in action?
Debbie: In Vienna I saw families and friends gather in the parks at ten o’clock on a Wednesday evening to lay on the grass and chat. I learned that in a city of nearly two million people, all but a few thousand had homes to return to. Nearly two thirds of residents live in affordable social housing. Rent paid by these residents is not subject to the whims of the market, so most of the population can lead their lives without straining to keep a roof over their heads.
What are your hopes for LA’s housing situation?
Debbie: Many elements of Vienna’s housing model could be applied here in Los Angeles. Measure ULA has sown the seeds for a significant permanent funding source comparable to what’s in Vienna. Vienna’s other compelling features – zoning that sets aside two-thirds of future housing developments as affordable; ongoing investments in social housing developers, developments, and residents; affordable housing uses prioritized on public land; an active public land bank; robust maintenance of public housing such that even properties built in the 1920s have waitlists of 3,000 people; and a resident co-op model that allows for self-determination – could be adopted here, too. Although there’s no copy-paste guarantee, these measures could bring us closer to a happier, healthier, and fully housed Los Angeles.
How do you see LTSC playing a role in achieving this vision?
Debbie: Currently, LTSC has a few affordable housing projects in the pipeline utilizing different innovative housing models: an affordable shared housing pilot project in Chinatown, a community land trust project in Boyle Heights, and a community ownership project in South LA.
A crucial part of LTSC’s mission is to uplift communities of color, and housing affordability has become a clear obstacle to building thriving communities. The current system simply doesn’t create enough housing to outpace the rate of homelessness. We can’t keep doing what we’re doing and expect different results. So alternative and innovative housing models are needed as part of the solution. And for LTSC, as a values-based nonprofit, models like social housing, land trusts and community ownership allow for community-driven and equitable housing development that can aid our community and other communities of color in achieving self determination.