How are areas selected to be gentrified

Gentrification: the hipsters are coming!

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We know the stories from cities like New York, Paris and Berlin: Run-down neighborhoods, in which for many years only those on low incomes wanted to live, are discovered one after the other by artists, hipsters and finally the real estate industry.

Because the demand for apartments is increasing, rents are skyrocketing. Those who came first can no longer afford to live at some point - and are pushed out of the neighborhood. This process is called gentrification.

International investors

Gentrification is also taking place in Vienna. There was agreement on this at the presentation of the anthology "Gentrification in Vienna. Perspectives from Science, Politics and Practice" by the Vienna Chamber of Labor a few days ago. The editors are the urban sociologist Mara Verlič and the urban researcher Justin Kadi.

The phenomenon of gentrification has not been dealt with for long in Austria. "For a long time you felt safe in Vienna," said the Viennese sociologist Christoph Reinprecht. Because thanks to the high number of rent-regulated community and cooperative buildings, a large proportion of the Viennese are not directly affected by rising rents on the private housing market. However, with the financial crisis ten years ago, international investors discovered Vienna to invest capital, reported geographer Walter Matznetter.

Many loft extensions

A visible sign of change are, for example, loft extensions that shape the cityscape in some Viennese Grätzeln - and in which mostly high-priced apartments are being built. Sociologist Reinprecht, together with Christina Liebhart and Camilo Molina, examined the change in the Volkertviertel in the second district from a "problem district" to a residential area. Half of the top floors of the Wilhelminian style houses have already been expanded there. These are mostly inhabited by a fluctuating "upper class".

However, there are instruments in Vienna that can delay gentrification, according to Liebhart: People also live in trendy districts with cheap old rental agreements, and in the Volkertviertel it was also possible for low-income people to buy property cheaply in the 1980s.

The contrasts within the neighborhood would now increase, however, according to the researchers. This is reflected in the Volkertmarkt, which young people and adults with "ethnically diverse backgrounds" use as a space for socializing and leisure, while a hip gastronomic infrastructure is being created around the market.

Space for luxury

But the phenomenon has not only been around for a short time. Geographer Matznetter emphasized that lower income groups were also being displaced in fin de siècle Vienna: even then, numerous suburban houses fell victim to "the pickaxe" to make room for luxury.

AK housing law expert Walter Rosifka was able to report how displacement manifests itself in some houses today. Because homeowners keep trying to get rid of old tenants who are unwelcome with cheap contracts. "Terminations that are simply pronounced without a reason for termination are popular," said the lawyer. The aim of such an approach is to put the tenants under pressure - and thus to get them to move out. Rent increases that go far beyond what is legally permitted and a lack of maintenance work are also among the nasties.

There is "active dementing management" operated, own companies have specialized in scaring landlords. Particularly in the less educated classes, threats and deception are used to persuade them to sign a "voluntary declaration of termination" of the lease. In most cases, landlords did not have to fear any criminal consequences, the lawyer complained.

Punks and old tenants

And tenant protests are also rare in Vienna. "There is a lack of broad mobilization," analyzed the social scientist Sarah Kumnig - but not because there is no reason for it, she is convinced. She has analyzed three housing policy initiatives - the tenants' initiative, the "Stop rent madness" initiative, which has now been dissolved, and the "Prevent evictions" initiative. They name, among other things, fixed-term contracts, rising rents and racism in the housing market as the greatest current problems.

However, resistance is stirring: the best-known example is the Anarchia pizzeria, a house in Vienna's Leopoldstadt that was evacuated with media coverage five years ago. To scare off the old tenants, the owner of the house had billeted punks, who then showed solidarity with the tenants - and refused to move out. "That was an important moment of resistance that led to a broader discussion," said Kumnig.

Sanctions against usury

Last year there was also a squatting on Neulerchenfelder Strasse in Ottakring. "The houses are for those who live in them," the squatters announced on social networks at the time. The house was evacuated by the police in December. These "small moments of protest" are important in order not to accept gentrification, said Kumnig. "But it will take more to sharpen understanding."

Thomas Ritt from the Chamber of Labor demanded measures from the city to curb the displacement of people. For example, he called for a record of displacement processes and local price developments, effective sanctions in the case of rental usury, more subsidized housing and a reservation of approval for the conversion of rental apartments into owner-occupied apartments. The AK has long been calling for a new tenancy law that also applies to apartments built after 1945.

New dedication category

Is Vienna threatening a fate like New York, where a new trendy district is proclaimed every few years - and rents soaring? Lukas Tockner, advisor for housing policy at AK Wien, sees the future as positive, for example with regard to the new Viennese dedication category "subsidized housing", but also because population growth is likely to slow down. In "two, three, four" years, he expects the housing market to ease. Rosifka believes that there will always be problems in the future. "There are always people who speculate about living as a good." (Franziska Zoidl, May 12, 2019)