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HOUSING

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V13, Page 815 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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HOUSING. The housing of the poorer classes has become a pressing problem in all populous Western countries, and has engaged, in a varying but constantly increasing measure, the attention of legislative and administrative bodies and of philanthropic individuals and societies. The general interest was signalized by an International Congress held in London in 1907. The recognition of the problem is due in the first instance to the science of public health, the rise of which dates from the second quarter of the 19th century; and in the second instance to the growth of urban populations consequent on the development of manufacturing industries and of trading and transporting agencies, both of which tend to mass increasing numbers of people in convenient centres. To have a clear view of the subject it is necessary to distinguish these factors and their respective influence upon the problem. Urban congestion is quite secondary, and only important because and so far as it has a prejudicial effect upon health and strength. Further, the requirements on the scientific side, made on behalf of public health, are of very much wider application and more expansive than those which arise from the mere growth of urban population. That is obvious at once from the fact that they extend to rural housing, which has indeed become a prominent feature of the question in recent years. To ascribe the housing problem to the " factory system," as some writers have done, is to put forward an in-adequate and misleading view of it. It is, in fact, particularly acute in some places totally devoid of factories and least acute in some purely factory towns. If the factory system were abolished with all its effects the housing question would remain. But there is a more important distinction than extent of application. The requirements of public health are indeterminate and interminable; knowledge increases, or rather changes, and the standard constantly rises. It is the changing standard which gives most trouble; housing at one period thought good enough is presently condemned. Fifty years ago no house existed which would satisfy modern sanitary standards, and the mansions of the great were in some respects inferior to the worst .quarters to-day. And to this process there is no end. It is quite conceivable that urban congestion might cease to be a difficulty at all. That actually happens in particular towns where the population is stationary or diminishing. One whole nation (France) has already reached that point, and others are moving towards it at varying rates. But even where the supply of houses exceeds the demand and many stand empty, the housing problem remains; condemnation of existing accommodation continues and the effort to provide superior houses goes on. In other words, there are two main aspects of the housing question, quality and quantity; they touch at various points and interact, but they are essentially distinct. The problem of quantity may be " solved," that of quality has no finality. The importance attached to housing is much enhanced by the general tendency to lay stress on the material conditions of life, which characterizes the present age. Among material conditions environment takes a leading place, largely under the influence of the theory of evolution in a popular and probably erroneous form; and among the factors of environment the home assumes a more and more prominent position. There is reason in this, for whatever other provision be made for work or recreation the home is after all the place where people spend most of their time. Life begins there and generally ends there. At the beginning of life the whole time is spent there and home conditions are of paramount importance to the young, whose physical welfare has become the object of increasing care. But the usual tendency to run to extremes has asserted itself. It may be admitted that it is extremely difficult to raise the character. and condition of those who live in thoroughly bad home surroundings, and that an indispensable or preliminary step is to improve the dwelling. But if in pursuit of this object other considerations are lost sight of, the result is failure, Bad housing is intimately connected with poverty; it is, indeed, largely a question of poverty now that the difference between good and had housing is understood and the effects of the latter are recognized. The poorest people live under the worst housing conditions because they are the cheapest; the economic factor governs the situation. Poverty again is associated with bad habits, with dirt, waste, idleness and vice, both as cause and as effect. These factors cannot be separated in real life; they act and react upon each other in such a way that it is impossibleto disentangle their respective shares in producing physical and, moral evils. To lay all responsibility upon the structural environment is an error constantly exposed by experience. Defective quality embraces some or all of the fallowing conditions—darkness, bad air, damp, dirt and dilapidation. Particular insanitary conditions independent of the structure are often associated; namely defects of water-supply, drainage, excrement and house refuse removal, back-yards and surrounding ground; they contribute to dirt, damp and bad air. Defective quantity produces high rents and overcrowding, both of which have a prejudicial effect upon health; the one by diminishing expenditure on other necessaries, the other by fouling the atmosphere and promoting the spread of infectious illness. The physical effects of these conditions have been demonstrated_ by comparative statistics of mortality general and special; among the latter particular stress is laid on the mortality of infants, that from consumption and from " zymotic " diseases. The statistical evidence has been especially directed to the effects of overcrowding, which can be stated with greater precision than other insanitary conditions. It generally takes the form of comparing the death-rates of different areas having widely contrasted densities of population or proportions of persons to a given space. It is not necessary to quote any of these figures, which have been produced in great abundance. They broadly establish a connexion between density and mortality; but the inference that the connexion can be reduced to a precise numerical statement and that the difference of mortality shown is all due to overcrowding or other housing conditions is highly fallacious. Many other factors ought to be taken into account, such as the age-distribution of the population, the birth-rate, the occupations, means, character and habits of the people, the geographical situation, the number of public institutions, hospitals, workhouses, asylums and so forth. The fallacious use of vital statistics for the purpose of proving some particular point has become so common that it is necessary to enter a warning against them; the subject of housing is a popular field for the exercise of that art, though there is no need of it. The actual state of housing in different countries and localities, the efforts made to deal with it by various agencies, the subsidiary points which arise in connexion with it and the results attained—all these heads embrace such a vast mass of facts that any attempt to treat them fully in detail would run to inordinate length. It must suffice to review the more salient points; and the most convenient way of doing so is to deal first with Great Britain, which has led the way historically in extent of need, in its recognition and in efforts to meet it, adding some notes upon other countries, in which the question is of more recent date and for which less information is available.
End of Article: HOUSING
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