Defining the “Migrant” Resident in Vienna. the Non-Definition of “Migrants” in a Developer's Competition for “Intercultural” Housing Estates and the Consequences for Housing Allocations

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 14:30
Location: Hörsaal 24 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Daniele KARASZ, University of Vienna, Austria
The former train station “Nordbahnhof” is currently one of Vienna’s largest areas of urban regeneration. An entirely new neighborhood is expected to be completed by 2025. In this paper, I explore the planning and building of subsidized estates following a housing developers’ competition under the banner “intercultural housing”. By 2014, around 650 apartments were built in six different “intercultural” estates. The competition envisaged the living together of “migrants” and “non-migrants”. A quota of 20% “migrants” per property was established, without however providing a definition for that. In fact, defining “migrants” became part of the competition itself. Therefore, housing developers were faced with the task of specifying which persons would be understood as “migrants” by the use of which terms. The housing corporations opted either for explicitly indicating a group of possible “migrant” inhabitants, such as “refugees”, or for keeping “silent” until the final allocation of the apartments. The special interest of the paper lies in this “silence” and its consequences for the allocation process. The Viennese housing provision system gives great power to single employees of housing corporations, which means they effectively decide the allocation of certain subsidized apartments “by themselves”. In some cases such employees “silently” labeled potential residents as “migrants” without explicitly defining what makes a migrant. It was not necessary to provide a definition, as persons in charge thought they knew whom to see as “migrant”. Also applicants seemed to share a similar understanding, thus consenting to their being ascribed as “migrants”.  I will show how “intercultural” housing projects turn into the reproduction of the stigmatization of certain population groups. Thereby various terms, both of longstanding and of recent use, are overlapped: “foreigners”, “guest workers”, “poor residents of `migrant´ neighborhoods”, “migrants” such as “intercultural people”.