Mention Vienna, Austria and people may think of music, architecture and Sigmund Freud.
It is also a city where quality of life and livability for all residents means something to city officials, and where that sentiment has become a tradition. A primary component of that tradition for more than 100 years has been the provision of affordable housing. It’s wonder Vienna is judged to offer the world’s highest quality of life.
Compare its ongoing commitment to Kelowna, where officials pay lip service to affordable housing, are willing to (borrow) $242 million, plus $200 million interest on a single recreation centre and fail to buy or zone the old sawmill land to ensure housing affordability, generous green space and recreation facilities.
Vienna, with a population of 1.8 million directly owns and manages 220,000 social housing units and indirectly controls 200,000 units that are built and owned by limited-profit private developers but developed through a city-regulated process. The city ensures developers acquire land at a fair price and in return, demands half the units are rented to lower income residents.
A jury evaluates the proposals based criteria like architectural quality, environmental performance and social sustainability. Importantly, the affordability to the Viennese means residents pay no more than 20% to 25% of their household income for the housing, and do not lose their homes when their income rises, creating mixed-income neighbourhoods.
Compared to Vienna with 440,000 affordable homes (35,000 per 150,000 residents), Kelowna’s record should dictate exactly how to spend the $31 million grant from Ottawa.
Vienna started its program in the early 20th century, so there’s no time like the present for Kelowna (to act).
(Editor’s note: The $242 million Kelowna is borrowing is part of a larger $287.5 million project the includes a new Parkinson Recreation Centre and two activity centres, as well as sports field improvements. As or the interest on the borrowing, Kelowna’s mayor says the total interest will be $120 million over 30 years.)