Housing Policy and the Slums
JOhn Tudor Walters is a practical organizer who has contri- buted. as "Much as any man in England to better housing for our peprer.elasses. The suggestions that he makes in the following article we cordially endorse. Our readers will note that he is in favour Of a State Housing Loin as suggested by us.—En. .Spectator.}- - - - M.UCH good work has been done and much valuable • . A-7-1- experience obtained since the publication of the Report of the Housing Committee in 1918. The million houses foreshadowed in this Report have now been built, but this programme has taken ten years to accom- plish instead of the five years prescribed by the Report,- that taking into consideration the normal number of new houses required each year, the overtaking of the shortage is more apparent than real. Every house built and occupied is something to the good, though it is unfor- tunately true that, owing to the high cost of building and the consequent high rents, these new houses are beyond the means of the irregularly employed and poorly paid section of the working classes. Undoubtedly •the moving up to the new houses by workmen who can afford to pay for better accommodation has set- free the poorer type of- dwellings at lower rents for others, but it does not appear from all the information available that to any appreciable extent these opportunities have been taken advantage of by what-may be described as the " slum population," and it is to -be feared that the overcrowding in the worst slum areas is more marked than at any. previous period. There, is another very serious aspect of this question, namely : the continuous deterioration of the older houses towards shundom and the consequent dragging down of a large population to a lower level of life.
The responsible authorities in London and some of the large provincial cities are undertaking - considerable schemes of slum clearance, and it is to be hoped that some of the dispossessed slum dwellers are being accom- modated in well-equipped tenement buildings that are being erected, but here again it is unfortunately true that large numbers from the cleared areas do not avail themselves of the accommodation provided in the tene- ment houses, and tend to, accentuate still further the overcrowding of the slums.
It is clear, therefore, that we have not yet discovered the solution of the long-standing problem of the slums, but in our search for remedial methods we must not lose our sense of perspective. _ The good work being done in the provision of the modern- standard of housing for our artisan population must not be slackened, but it is quite certain that we cannot afford to pay the price that we have been paying for the building of post-War houses. The cost of building these houses has appreciably fallen during the last six months, but the price of materials is still excessive, and masters and men in the building trade continue to be fettered by rules and regulations and the lack of effective team organization; which prevents the reduction of the -,cost-to a reasonable figure.
The new departure in co-operative house building presents many, encouraging features, particularly in the direction of building at prices that make possible more moderate rentals. It is to be hoped that large develop- ments in this direction will be undertaken in the near future by employers of labour. The re-conditioning of houses_in the older quarters of our cities and towns which are rapidly degenerating towards slums ought imme- diately to be undertaken upon a large scale. There are difficulties -in dealing with this aspect of the -.housing question that can only be overcome by legislation. A brief statement of the case will make this clear.
There are areas in practically all the old towns of houses of which the fabric is fairly good, but they were originally laid out with very little regard to light, air, and drainage. It is quite a feasible proposition to re-model many of these areas by pulling down some of the houses that obstruct light and air, opening out new means of access, providing for the sanitary conveniences, and carrying out general repairs to make the property clean and habitable under healthy conditions. It may be asked why, if this is possible, it is not undertaken by the owners. The answer . is that these areas are generally divided amongst many owners, and even -if some of them had the means and were willing to carry out these improvements, there are always a few owners who are not prepared to co-operate in such schemes, either by the lack of the will or of the money to do so.
Then there is the serious obstacle of ground landlords' covenants and the obligations under leases nearing ter- mination, which effectively bar the way to lessees under- taking such work. Local by-laws also stand in the way. The regulations and conditions which quite properly apply to new building schemes would rule out the only kind of re-modelling possible in these areas.
. For all these reasons the work can only be successfully carried out by co-operation between the State, the Local Authorities, and the property owners. There does not appear to be any insuperable objection in theory to a co-operative housing association in each locality to deal with the re-conditioning of these areas, the governing members of which should be representatives of the Local Authorities and of the property owners. Under such conditions it would be quite equitable for such a body compulsorily to acquire a suitable area, paying the site value in cash to the property owners, providing the money for the :work- of re-conditioning, and making these two items of expenditure the first charge upon the rents obtainable, and giving afterwards a certain share of the surplus income to the property owners as the equivalent of such value as their property possessed over and above- its site value. The money required to carry out these schemes could be provided by a State Housing Loan, which would be adequately secured by a first charge npon the re-conditioned property.
The management of properties of this description is an important element in the success or failure of the scheme, and the co-operation of the property owners who have experience in these matters would be of great value in the effective management of the property. To ensure success on a large scale it is necessary that these co-operative housing associations should work upon . some standard lines and under some general regulations which it would be the function of, say, the- Ministry of Health, to deter- mine and enforce. _ •- This still leaves us, with the problem of the areas that are veritable slums and for which there is no remedy but absolute clearance. The rebuilding upon the actual slum area after clearance is often the least desirable procedure, as such areas often have a value for business premises greatly in excess of their value for housing purposes, -and it is better to secure- the profit that this would yield as a contribution towards re-housing on some other site, the alternative housing, of course, being provided before the slum area is cleared.
It is generally assumed that the reason the slum dwellers do not readily remove to the alternative housing accommodation provided is merely a question of rent, but the very high rents paid by people who inhabit one or two rooms in the slum areas of our large towns makes it apparent that this cannot be the only or even the principal reason. There must, therefore, be other reasons connected either with the type of accommodation • pro- vided or the regulations controlling the tenancies. This point wants careful investigation, and a real attempt made to discover the psychology of the slum dwellers.. It cannot be that they prefer an insanitary dwelling, but probably they are shy of removing to quarters inhabited by people whose habits of life are different from their own, and perhaps one solution would be to accommodate the dispossessed tenants en bloc, where their neighbours would be the same as under the old conditions.
There is a considerable number of men in London and the large provincial towns who must live near their work, such as night watchmen, porters, hotel servants, transport workers and others, and for these the blocks of tenements seem to provide the only alternative accommodation to the slums. Wherever possible, however, such congested areas should be relieved by housing the tenants on the outskirts of towns and cities. It would certainly be worth while in the case of London, at any rate, to 'make an analysis of the occupations of the slum dwellers;' and possibly a scheme could be devised to include railway or 'bus fares from the new- dwellings to the place of occupation within the weekly rentals paid. Anything that simplifies the arrangements present- slum-dwellers would have to make with respect to, these matters would be to the good, The management of tenement dwellings; and indeed of working-class houses generally, is of the greatest importance, and astonishing results have been obtained by Miss Octavia Hill and other voluntary workers who have interested themselves in house management. Some of the most successful amongst our great industrial concerns are those where ready access is obtained by the work- people to a sympathetic tribunal of the management, and there is no doubt that similarly beneficial results would accrue from the application of this principle to the management of house property.
How are we to pool the experience already gained upon this many-sided housing question, and what steps can be taken to co-ordinate the work that is being done ? A tribute certainly ought to be paid to the Ministry of Health and its very efficient housing staff, but some- thing further seems to be required. There is certainly no need for the creation of a new bureaucracy, or for any form of State building on a large scale, but the time has come for the creation of an " Intelligence Staff "—the smaller the better—to take charge under the Minister of Health of these diversified operations. Its function would not be to dictate to Local Authorities, co-operative housing associations and others engaged in the work, but to advise and help them. Such a staff equipped with the necessary legislative powers could systematize the work that is being done, and direct the future housing policy into the right channels.
Housing is a great human problem, dependent not only upon technical knowledge and experience, but on a sympathetic understanding and appreciation of the difficulties of the working-class population, and the success of these operations depends largely upon the enlisting of public opinion on the side of a sound housing policy and securing the confidence and support of all those who are engaged in the work.
J. TUDOR WALTERS.