This paper analyzes social sustainability in the context of urban housing through the lens of institutional capital. It examines how civil society housing actors co-construct bottom-linked governance arrangements by interacting endogenously with peers and exogenously with institutional actors, such as public housing agencies and elected officials, in order to steer, as housing alliances, socially sustainable residential developments. The paper thus offers an answer to the following two research questions: (1) What are internal governance features that characterize such civil society housing alliances? (2) What are their strategies of interaction with institutional actors in order to promote social sustainability and thus counter exclusionary patterns in urban housing systems? Empirical evidences are drawn from two civil society housing alliances in Austria, ‘BAWO’ (a national alliance of homelessness NGOs) and the ‘Initiative Collaborative Building & Living’. During three research stays in Vienna between 2014 and 2020, data was collected through semi-structured interviews and focus groups with leaders and members of housing alliances, interviews with key institutional stakeholders and web research. By reflecting on the institutional and relational character of the two housing alliances and digging out their potential and limitations in promoting different elements of social sustainability, our paper concludes that social sustainability in housing systems can be realized when it is set as a societal ambition sufficiently politicized by major parties involved in housing systems (housing alliances, governmental authorities of all ideological backgrounds, large non-profit housing developers) that collectively guarantee housing affordability and socio-spatial equity for all.
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