Frustrating Beginnings: How Social Ties Compensate Housing Integration Barriers for Afghan Refugees in Vienna
By Josef Kohlbacher. Institute for Urban and Regional Research, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna, Austria.
A plethora of empirical studies document the relevance of social networks for providing information about labour market opportunities - but there is less research about the relevance of social networks when it comes to housing market opportunities.
The article presents findings from a qualitative survey (conducted in 2017-2018) on the integration of Afghan refugees in Vienna, the largest city in Austria with a diversified labour and housing market and a multi-faceted (migrant) economy.
The analysis focuses on Ager and Strang’s (2008) argument, which characterizes housing as a core domain in integration. Housing constitutes a potential means of supporting integration into domains other than the labour market.
Researchers (Aigner, 2018; Borevi & Bengtsson, 2015) have also emphasized the relevance of refugees’ social ties with family and co-ethnic groups, whereas the importance of inter-ethnic networking with members of the receiving society remains insufficiently explored.
The majority of the 65 interviewees that participated in the survey emphasized the importance of refugees’ social ties for their efforts towards structural integration.
The article highlights a number of problems that Afghan refugees face when looking for a home: the availability of suitable housing on the market, little knowledge of the local rental market, discrimination (by lessors and real-estate agents, xenophobia (‘Afghanophobia), living spaces that don't suit Afghans' household structures that consist predominantly of single males or large households etc.
Almost all interviewees reported that gathering information about vacant apartments or rooms communicated through social networks is the most successful routes towards obtaining lodgings. Networks rather than internet real estate search platforms were the greatest help.
Keywords: Austria, refugees, Afghan refugees, Vienna, housing integration, access to housing