Housing Affordability via Decommodification and Public Investment

A Comparative Analysis of Vienna and San Francisco


  • Steven Lee San Francisco State University




Vienna leads the world in affordable housing due to its century long, sustained political commitment and investment toward de-commodifying housing. This commitment is evident in the size of its subsidized housing as a portion of its total housing stock, the design, access, and quality of its subsidized stock, and the size of its funding on producing affordable housing. In contrast, San Francisco is consistently one of the most expensive cities in the world, as previous, market-based policies simply have not produced adequate housing. While it is attempting to rectify the situation, it’s clear that a new agenda should be endorsed. Vienna’s approach appears superior but would need significant political support and financial investment to address San Francisco’s housing. As a percentage of their city budgets, annualized spending on affordable housing amounted to a more than fivefold difference between Vienna (4.3%) and San Francisco (0.8%). San Francisco is far behind in the maturity of its development ecosystem, and should embrace the simple, but not easy, path that Vienna began a century ago. Ultimately, sustainable funding needs to be raised locally through bonds or taxes.