Lang, Richard and Novy, Andreas
Housing Cooperatives and Social Capital: The
Case of Vienna.
SRE - Discussion Papers, 2011/02.
WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna.
Drawing on the case of Vienna, the article examines the role of third sector housing for social
cohesion in the city. With the joint examination of an organisational and an institutional level
of housing governance, the authors apply an interdisciplinary, multi-level research approach
which aims at contributing to a comprehensive understanding of social cohesion as a
contextualised phenomenon which requires place-based as well as structural (multi-level)
solutions. Using a large-scale household survey and interviews with key informants, the
analysis shows an ambiguous role housing cooperatives play for social cohesion:
With the practice of "heme-oriented housing estates", non-profit housing returns to the
traditional cooperative principle of Gemeinschaft. However, community cooperatives rather
promote homogenous membership and thus, encompass the danger to establish cohesive
islands that are cut off from the rest of the city. Furthermore, given the solidarity-based
housing regime of Vienna, fostering bonding social capital on the neighbourhood level, might
anyway just be an additional safeguarding mechanism for social cohesion.
More important is the direct link between the micro-level of residents and the macro-level of
urban housing policy. In this respect, cooperative housing represents a crucial intermediate
level that strengthens the linking social capital of residents and provides opportunity
structures for citizen participation. However, the increasing adoption of a corporate
management orientation leads to a hollowing out of the cooperative principle of democratic
member participation, reducing it to an informal and non-binding substitute.
Thus, it is in the responsibility of both managements and residents to revitalise the existing
democratic governance structures of cooperative housing before they will be completely
dismantled by market liberalization and privatization. In contrast to other European cities,
third sector housing in Vienna has the potential to give residents a voice beyond the
neighbourhood and the field of housing. (author's abstract)