Zurich set to scrap income threshold for affordable housing

Zurich set to scrap income threshold for affordable housing

At a vote on January 10, the city council of Zurich moved to abolish the income threshold for those eligible for affordable housing in the city. While supporters have argued that the move will allow all residents to apply for affordable properties to rent, at a time when rental costs have reached new highs, opponents have called the vote a “black day for Zurich's housing policy.”

Reforms to affordable housing in Zurich

Since the enforcement of the Planning and Building Act in 2019, local councils in Canton Zurich have been able to demand that construction companies, housing associations and private firms assign a proportion of new or upgraded buildings towards so-called affordable housing. These apartments, typically offered out via housing cooperatives, are usually much cheaper than other homes in Zurich, which was recently rated as having the most overpriced housing in the world.

These apartments are offered out to applicants who fulfil certain criteria. These include minimum occupancy requirements for homes (the number of rooms minus one should equal the number of residents) and a rule that states that the applicant(s) must be resident in the area before applying. 

Under the previous reading of the law, which was approved by Swiss citizens at a cantonal referendum in 2014, tenants were also subject to an “income clause.” This states that an applicant's annual income must not exceed six times the annual rental costs of the apartment when they move in. Income in this case refers to the salaries of all residents and a 10th of their collective assets over 200.000 francs.

Zurich left-wing parties scrap income threshold for housing

However, at the vote on Wednesday, members of the Social Democratic (SP), Green and Alternative Left parties chose to scrap the income rules for affordable housing in the city (not canton) of Zurich. The motion passed the city's legislature by 60 votes to 52. They also called for limited exceptions to the residency and minimum occupancy rules.

The reform has been sharply criticised, even among members of the parties that voted for it. Zurich chief financial officer Daniel Leupi (Greens) said he “can’t understand what the Red-Greens are doing.” “With the removal of the income limit, what is currently happening on the housing market in the city of Zurich is ignored”, he added, arguing that the change denies affordable homes to those who need them the most.

Green Liberal Party councillor Nicolas Cavalli called the move a “black day for Zurich’s housing policy”, predicting that the change would only make the housing crisis worse. In a statement, FDP. The Liberals told the Tages-Anzeiger that left-wing parties had tied themselves in knots and “lost their way” on the issue. Finally, the EVP’s Claudia Rabelbauer said she was astounded by the idea, predicting that another referendum on the issue is now almost certain.

Supporters say reform makes affordable housing more efficient

In defending the vote, SP spokesperson Patrick Tscherrig told the Tages-Anzeiger that everyone, rich or not, should be entitled to affordable housing in Zurich. He argued that the ultimate aim should be for as many people as possible to have affordable rent and not be victimised by the higher rents offered elsewhere.

They added that from the SP's perspective, over-regulation of the housing market was not the solution to the ongoing shortages and that by scrapping the requirements they were making the system more efficient. Brigitte Fürer of the Green Party agreed, telling the Tages-Anzeiger that the warnings of other parties about millionaires applying for affordable homes are “pure populism.”

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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