The Housing Problem

Hornsey Journal, 7 February 1919

The housing problem is becoming more acute.  Building fell off about nine years ago, and it ceased altogether on the outbreak of war.

Embarrassment was not felt severely at first, because a considerable number of households were broken up as men volunteered. In some cases relatives joined forces in a common abode, and in others wives and children went into apartments. Nevertheless it became increasingly difficult to find a small house, and now that the men are coming home by the thousands every day, and many of them wish to return to their former conditions, the demand for houses has become enormous, and there is no supply.

The London County Council are obtaining information in regard to accommodation in what is known as Greater London. They have submitted various questions to the local authorities and are collecting the replies. At the last meeting of the Hornsey Town Council the interrogations were detailed, and the proposed replies were submitted to the Works Committee for approval. The first questions were as to what additional accommodation is needed to relieve existing overcrowding, to enable unsuitable accommodation to be abandoned, or for other reasons.

The Works Committee said that, “as at present advised”, they do not know of any available sites for working-class dwellings; that their by-laws are for high standard works, with no provision for modified requirements in respect of small houses; that they recommend the extension of the tube railways from Finsbury Park northward and from Highgate northward.

They state that there are 564 acres of land unbuilt on in the borough, and that they have erected 436 houses on 19½ acres of land, with accommodation varying from three to seven rooms, at a cost, exclusive of interest, of £134,950. They do not contemplate the preparation of any town-planning scheme.

These replies were submitted to the Town Council for their approval, but the Chairman of the Works Committee frankly stated that the voting by his colleagues was extremely close, and that there was so much and such sustained divergence of opinion among them on the subject that he thought they should have a further opportunity of considering it with a view to putting a definite policy before the Council. The report and recommendations were therefore withdrawn. What the effect will be remains to be seen. Will the majority give way to the minority, or will there be a compromise after the time-honoured British fashion?

Inasmuch as Hornsey is not altogether what is superficially described as a “working-class” area, it will be seen that the Town Council have not lagged in the provision of workmen’s dwellings. The first of the four schemes was completed in 1898 and the last in 1912. We have reason to believe that the dwellings are almost exclusively occupied by men who actually earn their living in the borough – the local police, the postmen, municipal employees, and others.

The Council can say with the strictest veracity that they have provided for a considerable number of families, but that no further accommodation is needed is not so incontrovertible. Is there no overcrowding in Hornsey? Is there no “unsuitable accommodation”? Are the artisan and the labouring the only classes for whom cheap provision should be made?

From time to time there have been revelations as to insanitary conditions at Campsbourne, at Highgate, and elsewhere. Brook-road and other thoroughfares are not a credit to the borough, but the people who crowd Campsbourne may earn their livelihood in any part of London. It cannot be urged that the Town Council are under any obligation to house these people.

There are a few old houses in Hornsey which have degenerated in the course of years, but most of those of which we complain are modern, and should never have fallen to their present condition. Where there is overcrowding and the owners will not keep premises in good condition, the local authorities should have the power to acquire them, restore them, convert them into flat, or rebuilt them, and let them to tenants who by long residence or employment in the borough have something of a claim to proper accommodation at a rent they can afford to pay.

Website editor’s note

This is an abridged version of the original article. The original article can be consulted at the Old Schoolhouse.

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