Why opposition to cheaper housing is mounting in Switzerland

The Swiss will soon go to the polls to vote on the 'Affordable Rent Initiative' that would help create cheaper housing. But this proposal for low-cost housing is being challenged.

Why opposition to cheaper housing is mounting in Switzerland

The aim of the proposal, created by the Swiss Tenants’ Association (ASLOCA), is to pass a law mandating that 10 percent of newly-built apartments in Switzerland should be rented at low cost.

However, a cross-party committee, led by homeowners' organizations, has launched a campaign against this initiative on Thursday, calling the proposed measure “inefficient and costly”.

The opposition committee claims that the 10-percent quota would cost taxpayers at least 120 million francs each a year. It would also lead to government interference in the housing market, which would be contrary to the principle of property rights and contractual freedom.

Most of Switzerland’s political parties, as well as the parliament and the Federal Council have spoken against this initiative, arguing that housing should remain in the private sector, and not be subject to government mandates.

“What ASLOCA is asking for is not realistic,” the government has said.

But federal authorities conceded that “for certain people and in certain regions, it is difficult to find affordable housing.”

Therefore, if the ASLOCA proposal is rejected by Swiss voters, the government said it would release 250 million francs for the construction of low-cost dwellings.

Unlike other European nations, there is no government-financed housing in Switzerland, but there are subsidised apartments for low-income families.  

Reasonably priced rental accommodation is difficult to find in Switzerland, especially in big cities like Zurich, Geneva, and Basel, as the number of available apartlments is very low, and the competition to get them can be fierce.

Foreigners are often at a disadvantage in this process; a study released earlier this year showed that landlords prefer Swiss tenants over immigrants.

However, discrimination in housing is not specific to Switzerland; it exists in other countries as well including France and Germany.  


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In which Swiss canton can you find a rental bargain?

The cost of renting an apartment in Switzerland varies largely from canton to canton. Here's where you might find a bargain.

In which Swiss canton can you find a rental bargain?
Sign on this Swiss building says "for rent." Photo: FRED DUFOUR / AFP

Rented accommodations are most expensive in the Swiss canton of Zug, according to a study by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO).

Average monthly rents for a three-to-four room property in the tiny canton, which is home to dozens of multinational companies, is 1,883 francs.

Due to its low tax rate, Zug is a major target for millionaires – with the most per capita in Switzerland.

READ MORE: Which Swiss canton has the most millionaires?

Average monthly rents for a three to four room property in the two cantons ranged between 1,486 and 1,508 francs in 2019.

In the second place is the canton of Zurich (1,663 francs per month), followed by Schwyz (1,612 francs) and Nidwalden (1,553 francs).

Geneva and Vaud are next on the list, with average monthly rents of 1,508 francs and 1,486 francs, respectively.

Where can I find a cheap rental deal?

In contrast, the same size apartment in Jura costs 967 francs — the lowest rate in Switzerland — and 1,000 in Neuchâtel.

The Swiss average for a three to four-room dwelling is 1,362 francs, the OFS reported.

READ MORE: Reader question: How do I challenge my rent in Switzerland? 

This chart shows how your canton rates in terms of rents.

For most tenants in Switzerland — 62 percent — the monthly rent ranged between 1,000 and 1,999 francs, while a quarter of households paid a monthly rent of less than 1,000 francs.

Switzerland had 2.3 million tenants in 2019, while 1.4 million people owned their homes.

An earlier study showed that residential property prices continue to climb in Switzerland despite the pandemic, having increased by 2.5 percent in 2020.

Both owned and rented housing is most expensive in the Lake Geneva region, which encompasses cantons of Geneva and Vaud.