I move that the Bill be read a Second Time. Those who have interested themselves in productive industry in this State or in the discussions which have taken place on many previous Bills understand that our housing policy has been referable mainly to two very important considerations—the first, that with a building industry decaying or stagnant neither State subventions nor official energy nor new laws could remedy at once a serious housing shortage; secondly, that where there is no natural increment in the number of houses being built the pulling down of old houses merely adds to the number of homeless and increases the need. These matters and particularly the trend of building costs since 1922 must be dealt with in what I have to say to you. I must preface my remarks on this important measure by emphasising that the regrettable prevalence of slums is in no way whatever due to official neglect or apathy. On the contrary a policy now shown to be successful has brought us sooner relatively than has been the experience of other countries to a point when with competition in our building industry we are encouraged to further develop our policy by an attempt to eradicate directly the worn out or insanitary house.
From the middle of the nineteenth century it became recognised gradually that it was a proper function of the local authorities to organise and to subsidise the building of houses for the poorly paid classes of workers in urban areas, and especially for the lowest paid workers whose houses were overcrowded and insanitary. In our cities a huge amount of work remains to be done. In our small and urban districts when we compare the rehousing necessary with their financial resources of the urban districts, the work before them is comparatively large. There is now a widespread appreciation of the primary and urgent importance of this problem. It is realised that not only can there be no relaxation of endeavour but that the continued existence of homes in slums has become intolerable. The advancing knowledge of the essentials of public health is adding day by day to this realisation. Apart from that, our obligations are pressing upon us all to do all we can to provide at least modest homes for Christian families.
Attention is sometimes drawn to the fact that the Government policy of accelerating the erection of houses since 1922 has in effect improved the housing conditions of the better paid workers and of the middle classes and that there has been slow consequential improvement in the conditions of the poorly paid workers or of those living in insanitary areas. The present Bill introduces a radical change in the application of State and local funds to the provision of housing. It is, however, a natural sequence to the policy obtaining since 1922, and is a development which would have been impossible without the patient work of the last 9 years. This Bill is designed mainly for the clearance of insanitary areas and the provision of houses for the poor. It does not cut off assistance for the rehousing of the ordinary better-paid working classes, but it leads, we hope, towards conditions in which the well remunerated ordinary working class will not have to rely solely on local authorities or on subsidies for the provision of houses. Many have been restive because of the continued existence of the slum and the slow rate of its eradication. There are complaints that better results should have been shown earlier. What are the facts?
The last houses built under the Dublin Corporation before the advent of the Provisional Government in 1922 were built at Fairbrothers Fields. They were five-roomed houses. The all-in-cost of them was £1,000 each. When subsequently in 1922 the Provisional Government made available £1,000,000 for the building of houses for the working classes, 947 houses were built in Dublin. Of these 848 were of five rooms and the all-in-cost per house was as great as £857. These figures must indicate to every thoughtful person that any successful direct attack on the demolition of the slums could not have been begun either with our financial resources of 1922 or with the building industry in the state reflected by these costs. In 1922 the Government gave a free grant of £1,000,000 to local authorities to build houses. To this million was added an eighth of a million raised from the rates by the local authorities and three-eighths of a million borrowed by the local authorities from the banks. £1,500,000 was thus supplied to revive the house building industry—but the building costs were enormous—the building cost of a five-roomed house in Dublin was £675 and the average cost throughout the country was £635. The general circumstances at the time, and these building costs were such that the Government could not, without serious prejudice to its credit and to its financial reputation, have risked putting any considerable amount of borrowed money into housing, and particularly housing for the working classes and more particularly housing for the poorly paid working classes. The Act of 1924 began the policy which, by means of Government grants raised from revenue and given to private persons undertaking the building of houses, induced private capital into house building. Similar grants were made to public utility societies and later in 1924, when the local authorities had completed their million pounds scheme, these grants were made available to local authorities. The total number of houses where building had been arranged for under the 1922 to 1930 operations of the Government were, by the 31st March, 1931, 24,566. State grants to the extent of £2,550,000 have been made available; £6,000,000 approximately has been provided by private persons; and £2,500,000 by local authorities; a total of approximately £11,000,000.
Throughout, by the careful administration of the Acts, by the supervision of schemes proposed by local authorities, by conference, by negotiation, by unwearying examination of costs, of plans and of specifications, on the part of the Department, we have secured marked reductions in costs of building. Whereas the square foot cost in 1922 was 14/—15/-, that in 1924 and 1925 was 12/6, and in the case of 32 different schemes carried out during 1930 the average square foot cost was 9/4, and the average cubic foot cost 8.7d., reaching on some schemes as low a figure as 7/8½ per square foot, and 7½d. per cubic foot. Partly owing to the reduction in cost, partly due to the more efficient state of the industry as a result of the Government fostering of it, and partly owing to the secure establishment of the country's credit, the Government were able in 1929 to open the Local Loans Fund, and afford State loans to local authorities for the full cost of their housing, and repayable over a period of 35 years.
Prior to April, 1922, there had been built throughout the country 42,023 labourers' cottages. In urban districts throughout the country there had been built prior to 1922 9,022 houses for the working classes, of which 3,367 were in the City of Dublin. Looking back to-day we find that there had been built in urban areas since 1922 as a result of Government policy and Government assistance, by private persons 3,568 houses; public utility societies 1,156 houses; local authorities 8,195 houses; a total of 12,919; and in rural areas during the same time, by private persons 11,084 houses; public utility societies 178 houses; local authorities 385 houses, or a total of 11,647 houses. Those who seek to spur us on to greater efforts may at least derive some solace from these totals, and see in them implied much achievement in the future.
In this measure we direct our policy more definitely to eradicating the insanitary house, and providing for its occupant, and for the poorer classes.
Apart from the actual provision of houses, the Bill deals with four very important matters—the clearance area, the improvement area, the derelict site, which may be required for housing, and the insanitary house.
Where a local authority, after suitable examination, resolves that in a particular area all the dwellings and other buildings are so unfit for human habitation or dangerous and injurious to health that they ought all to be demolished if the unhealthy conditions are to be finally removed, they may declare that area a clearance area, and may proceed to secure the demolition of the buildings in one or other of two ways or both. Either they may purchase the area by agreement or by compulsory purchase order and demolish the buildings thereon, or they may order the owners or owner by means of an order referred to in the Act as a "clearance order" to demolish the buildings in the area. If the local authority decide to proceed by compulsory purchase order the Second Schedule to this Act sets forth the procedure to be followed by them. That schedule provides a simple method by which the order is made by them and submitted to the Minister for confirmation, suitable provision being made for the publication of the fact that it is proposed to submit the order to the Minister, and service of notice on all owners, lessees and occupiers being provided for. A period is allowed inside which objections may be made to the Minister. At the end of that time if there are no objections the Minister can confirm the order, with or without modification, and if there are objections the Minister will arrange a local inquiry at which the objections will be heard. And then after having considered the report and objections he may confirm the order with or without modification, and there shall be no appeal to a court except as to its validity on the ground that it was not within the powers of the Act, or that any requirement of the Act has not been complied with. If the local authority desire to proceed by ordering the owner to demolish the buildings the First Schedule to the Act prescribes suitable notice to all persons concerned of the making of a clearance order and procedure similar to that of compulsory purchase order as regards public notices, objections, inquiry and confirmation. Both those orders will be final and conclusive save that an appeal will be to the High Court on the ground of their validity or that any requirement of the Act has not been complied with. The clearance order will require the vacation of the buildings inside a specified period and will require that the owner will have demolished the buildings and cleared and levelled the site before the expiration of six weeks after the vacation, or before the expiration of any other longer time that the local authorities shall think reasonable. Failure to carry out the necessary demolition and levelling of the site within the specified time will give power to the local authorities to enter the site and carry out the necessary work of demolition and levelling, and enable the local authorities to recover, by action or before a summary court, the expenses involved in carrying out the work.
Where a clearance order has been given effect to any development of the cleared area shall be subject to the approval of the local authority, and if the owner of the cleared area has taken no steps to develop the area, the local authority may, after eighteen months from the date of demolition, acquire the land by compulsory purchase. The compensation that shall be paid for land compulsorily acquired in a clearance area shall be the value of the site as if it were cleared of all buildings, and where it is proposed that part of the site shall be made available for the housing of the working classes there shall be a reduction in the amount of compensation paid arranged for under the Housing Act, 1919. This reduction shall be spread over the whole area according to the formula contained in Part I of Schedule II.
Many areas though decidedly unhealthy are not so unhealthy as to warrant total demolition of buildings but are such that conditions could be improved by the opening of the area and admitting more light and air. Such areas are intended to be dealt with by the method of the improvement area.
The local authority may declare an unhealthy area to be an improvement area where they are of opinion that matters can be effectively remedied there without the demolition of all the buildings in the area. Such a declaration imposes a duty on the local authority who may require of the owner the demolition or the repair of the unfit dwelling houses within the area, and to purchase any land which, in their opinion, it is necessary to acquire for the purpose of opening out the area and giving more healthy conditions. If a person is aggrieved by an order ordering the execution of any work in connection with an improvement area he has, within 21 days of the service of the notice, an appeal to the Circuit Court.
An important precautionary provision is that before passing a resolution declaring an area to be a clearance area or an improvement area, the local authority must first satisfy the Minister that in so far as suitable accommodation is not available for the persons of the working classes who will be displaced the local authority can provide or secure such accommodation, and that its resources are sufficient for the purpose.
A derelict site is a site situate in or in close proximity to a working-class area which is the site of a ruined and uninhabited dwelling, and which has been lying vacant for a period of not less than three years. It is proposed that local authorities can acquire compulsorily any such site for purposes of Part III of the Act of 1890, and that pending this being put to such use it can be temporarily used as a playground or recreation ground. The compensation shall be cleared-site value, less cost of clearance.
Part III deals with unhealthy dwellings, and is intended to enable a local authority to deal with individual unfit houses where they are not so ruinous as to enable the local authority to proceed by way of clearance area or improvement area. Where a local authority are satisfied that houses suitable for occupation by persons of the working class are unfit for human habitation, but are capable of being rendered so fit at reasonable expense, they may require the owner of such a dwelling to do what is necessary to put the house in a fit condition. A person aggrieved by such a notice has an appeal to the Circuit Court within twenty-one days after the notice. If the work is not carried out within the appropriate time, the local authority may themselves carry out the work and may recover the expense of so doing by action or summarily as a civil debt. They may require that the sum so spent shall be repaid either as one sum or by weekly or other instalments, if necessary, over a period of thirty years, and with additions for interest at such rate as the Minister, with the approval of the Minister for Finance, shall determine. If the local authority is of opinion that the house cannot be made fit, with reasonable expense, they may order the demolition of the house, after consideration of any proposals that the owner may make as to the future use of the house. The owner will be given suitable notice, and may enter into an agreement with the local authority that he will carry out repairs which he thinks can be carried out so that he may continue to use the house as a dwelling house.
The Government will provide loans covering in the case of all local authorities the total cost of acquiring sites and the building of houses. Public utility societies and private persons may, through the means of the Housing Act of 1919 and the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act, obtain in the case of public utility societies 75 per cent. of the all-in-value of the house, and in the case of private persons up to 90 per cent. The local authorities will have power in the case of private persons to make instalments of the loan from time to time as the work progresses, provided that the total of the amount paid by way of instalments shall not at any time be more than 50 per cent. of the value of the work done, including the person's interest in the site. Up to the present accommodation under the Small Dwellings Act has not been available outside Dublin, which did its own borrowing, and in Dublin this accommodation has only been available to a limited extent. The administration of the Act will cause little expense to the local authority. They can make their own regulations as to the number of instalments that may be made and the times at which they shall be made. The valuation will be carried out by a valuer appointed by the local authority and will be chargeable to the applicant for the loan.
In addition to these loan facilities the Government propose to give direct financial assistance to the provision of houses. In the case of houses built by local authorities as part of a re-housing scheme, whether the houses built are flats built centrally in our large cities or separate houses; and in the case of houses for the working classes built apart from any connection with a clearance or improvement scheme; and in the case of labourers' cottages and public utility societies, assistance will be given by means of grants payable over a period of years towards the repayment of interest and principal. In the case of houses built by private persons, under certain conditions assistance will be given by means of small grants paid on the completion of the house, and through the local authority, and on condition that the local authority pays a similar grant. In the case of housing of the tenement type already existing and purchased by a local authority for transfer to a philanthropic body who will maintain and house poor persons, a grant by way of lump sum towards the cost of acquisition and repair.
To re-house those deprived of their present habitation by a clearance scheme or an improvement scheme in some of our cities it will be necessary to provide apartments in large blocks in central areas. Much as is our desire to do so, we could not find space to erect single family dwellings in the centre of the city for workers who required to be near their work and who are now living in unsuitable accommodation in the centre of the city. Both to provide for those and to use suitable areas it will be necessary to erect apartment houses. Any experience we have had in the building of this class of dwelling shows that the cost of a set of apartments in a scheme like this is considerably higher than the cost of a single family house of the same capacity. In the case of an apartment of this kind the Government proposes to pay 40 per cent. of the loan charge of the all-in-cost of the premises for a period of 15 years, and 33? per cent. of these charges for a subsequent period of 22 years. We do not think that the cost of such an apartment should cost more than £450, and it is not proposed that the Government would pay the percentage of the loan charges on any higher figure than this. Expressed in terms of present worth and in relation to a loan of £450, the subsidy of the State will be £162. It is contemplated that the percentage of the total capital cost borne by the State will be 36 per cent.; borne by the local authority, 36 per cent.; borne by the occupier, 28 per cent.
Where re-housing is affected by the provision of single family houses the total all-in-cost should, in our opinion, not be more than £350, and up to that limit the Government will pay 30 per cent. of the loan charges for 15 years and 20 per cent. for a further period of 15 years. On the sum of £350 the present value of the subsidies will be approximately £82.
And here it is contemplated that the percentages of the capital cost shall be borne by State, 24 per cent.; local authority, 24 per cent.; occupier, 52 per cent. It is contemplated that as far as possible a standard rent should be fixed, and that reductions in the cost of building should go to the ease of the State and the local authority. Where local authorities build to standards above those implied by the figures quoted, £450 and £350, the excess cost must fall on the local authority or the occupier. Where, apart from re-housing, local authorities build houses for the working class, the State subsidy will be given by means of a 15 per cent. payment of the loan charges for a period of 20 years. If the all-in-cost of such a house is £400 the value of the State grant will be approximately £45. A similar grant will be given to public utility societies who build houses under certain conditions for renting to persons of the working class. In the case of labourers' cottages the Government subsidy will be 20 per cent. of the loan charges, interest and principal for a period of 35 years, the present value of this subsidy being approximately £60 on a £300 house. Hitherto under the grant system it has been arranged that local authorities will repay their loans on the annuity system. It will now be arranged that local authorities will repay their loans on the instalment system. This will mean that the amount to be repaid will diminish as the period of the loan comes to an end, the heavier payments will be made in the beginning. Grants to private persons were originally given in 1924, when grants varying between £100 and £50 were given to private persons building houses from five rooms to three rooms. The amount of the grant was gradually diminished until the 1929 Act, when it was reduced to £45. The object of these grants was to assist private persons at a time when building costs were abnormally high, and when the value of houses then building was expected to depreciate inside a few years owing to the expected fall in the cost of building. They were also intended to induce private capital to come into the building industry.
It has been suggested that the time has come when these grants to private persons should cease. This opinion has been expressed by various members on previous housing discussions here. Valuable work has been done in urban districts as a result of these grants. When we look at urban housing conditions now, and particularly in large centres of population, we find that the local authority will be providing houses at anything up to a cost of £400 all-in-cost, and renting them to workers at a rent relieved by means of subsidy. We see that those other than local authorities who are building houses are building between the £800 and £1,000 figure for the most part, and we must consider who is going to build for the person who, not being able to find a suitable house to rent, is nevertheless prepared to pay for a house whether by rent or purchase, the all-in cost of which would be £500 to £600, i.e., a house of a better class than that provided by local authorities. While realising the extent of the work that requires to be done in relation to re-housing and in relation to the housing of the very poor, it would seem that a case can be made for assisting the erection of such houses until such time as the building industry, transferring at least part of its efforts towards the provision of houses for this particular class, shall have relieved the present shortage. The Government, therefore, propose that the subsidies for houses of this particular class would be continued for a short time—the subsidy being paid half by the State and half by the local authority, and being raised out of revenue—total grant, £40—that is, £20 from the State and £20 from the local authority. These persons may have the assistance of the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act in respect of houses whose valuation will not be more than £800.
If there be any case for dropping grants to private persons in urban areas, I think the case could not so easily be made for dropping it in rural areas. Rather remarkable work has been done by private persons in rural areas with the help of the Government grant made available since 1924, and, in particular, some of the inequality between different counties in the matter of housing accommodation provided under the Labourers Acts has been to some extent redressed. In the rural districts of Limerick there are 20,688 inhabited houses. Of these, 4,075 cottages, or practically one-fifth, were built under the Labourers Acts; 795 houses have been built in Limerick under aid from 1924-1930 Housing Acts. In Mayo, on the other hand, with inhabited houses numbering 35,345, only 320 of these were houses erected under the Labourers Acts; but under the Housing Acts, 1924-1930, the number of houses built in Mayo is 1,508, or five times those built under the Labourers Acts. This tendency and the desire to improve rural housing by way of example suggest that assistance to rural areas should be continued for a further period. Responsible local judgment will be brought to bear on the matter by the provision that the subsidy will be borne half by the local authorities. Should they come to the conclusion that the facilities which they can make available under the Acquisition of Small Dwellings Act are in fact sufficient to maintain the improvement in rural housing reasonably desirable, then the time will have come when assistance by way of direct grant may be stopped. Besides the State assistance given towards the erection of labourers' cottages, Part V of the Bill proposes to increase from 1s. to 2s. in the £ the rates that may be levied by a local authority for the purpose of these Acts. In special cases the rates may be raised to 2s. 6d. This amendment has been found necessary because certain districts which have reached the existing limit of rating nevertheless wish to provide for additional cottages. About 2,500 cottages were authorised prior to the war, but were not built. Where a local authority has not completed arrangements for the erection of the cottages within two years after the confirmation of the provisional order, they may be compelled to reconvey the land to the original owner. Provision is made in the Bill securing the local authorities possession of these lands for another period of five years. The local authority is also given power to acquire any buildings in a rural district capable of being made fit for habitation by agricultural labourers.
The special facilities for the reconditioning of houses afforded in subclause 4 of Clause 60 are introduced at the instance of the Dublin Corporation. It is hoped that these facilities will now extend and promote the interests of voluntary and philanthropic associations everywhere in the housing of the very poor. Creditable efforts have already been made by various associations who, at their own expense, have remodelled tenement houses, but the heavy outlay entailed has made progress slow. There have been also the truly remarkable achievements of the Morning Star and Regina Coeli organisations which have attained results of which Dublin may well be proud in providing homes for destitute men and women. There is at least this advantage attaching to most of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century tenements in Dublin and other cities—these old houses have spacious rooms and good cubic capacity. Any steps to be taken which will arrest their decay and secure that the necessary maintenance is carried out must redound greatly to the advantage of those whose earnings are scant and precarious.
In discussions at our recent Public Health Conference special attention was given to the position of materials of Irish manufacture in Housing Schemes. We pointed out that the use of native materials should be possible to the extent of 47.3 per cent. of the total necessary materials in the concrete houses, and that if the use of brick be justifiable this percentage would increase to 70 per cent. It has been the uniform practice of the Department to advocate the use of Irish materials where possible and practicable, and it is felt that further progress might be made if some of the home producers were more active in bringing their goods to the notice of local authorities and their engineers.
With every desire to promote home industry and to secure the employment it represents, it becomes necessary, however, to sound a note of warning— All who are sincerely interested in housing must give first consideration to the cost of the house with all the implications to the financial capacity of the proposed occupier, of the ratepayer and the taxpayer. And where in a scheme enhanced costs due to preference of home materials mean less houses a dilemma arises. Take the case some time ago of South Dublin. Here the local authority put forward a scheme for 48 cottages to be built in masonry and roofed with Irish slates. This involved an expenditure of £2,250 in excess of the cost of the cottages if built in concrete and roofed with asbestos slates. We had protracted discussions with the local authority, as it appeared to us that the £2,250, representing seven cottages, should be saved for more housing. We ultimately agreed, with some reluctance, to the use of Irish slates at the increased cost of £600—that is, the cost of two additional cottages. With housing needs so emergent as they are, it is a serious responsibility on the part of the Department to agree to any course which in effect postpones for anyone indefinitely the hopes of being rehoused.
As already explained, the Bill confers extended powers in connection with the clearance of unhealthy areas in which the dwelling houses are unfit for human habitation or are dangerous or injurious to the health of the inhabitants. Areas so cleared may be dealt with in either of the ways laid down in clause 10 of the Bill, and it is to be noted that the powers to provide housing accommodation include a power to provide and maintain, with the consent of the Minister, playgrounds or recreation grounds or open spaces for the persons for whom accommodation is provided. I propose to introduce very shortly a measure which will give local bodies additional powers in the replanning of such areas. Under the proposed measure a local authority may prepare a plan for their entire area or any part thereof, and in the case of urban districts the area to be planned may be extended under certain conditions to include portion of an adjoining area. There will also be a general power for the planning of regional areas. In the cities of Dublin and Cork special regional areas will be proposed. The powers conferred on local bodies will be exercised with due regard to all legitimate interests affected. It is true that there has been little demand from local bodies for town planning powers, but it will gradually come to be recognised that the public welfare stands to gain immeasurably by a proper regulation of the growth and development of local government areas. While planning affects every sphere of municipal activity, it has perhaps a more direct relationship with the provision of housing accommodation, and I am anxious that the new measure should become law as soon as possible.
In conclusion, I may say that I am conscious that the high cost of building must continue to receive anxious consideration from all who interest themselves in the housing problem. Many causes are assigned which naturally reflect somewhat the personal interests of those engaged in building— there are the costs of labour in workmen's wages and hours, output, materials, contractors' profits, etc. In all these matters my Department and myself will remain only too willing to participate in any conversations which appear likely to promote any enlarged provision of houses at prices conformable with the resources of our community.