I move that this Bill be now read a Second Time. This Bill, for which I ask a Second Reading, is the annual Bill carrying on the provisions of the Housing Act, 1932. Each year, since 1932, we have had similar Bills making provision for the carrying out of the terms of that 1932 Act, and sometimes there have been amendments or changes, but usually of a not vitally important form. This time there are some changes suggested that, I think, will be useful and helpful and that will, perhaps, enable us to make a little more rapid progress, particularly in regard to the question of slum clearance. As to the details of the measure, I have some facts to put before the House. The main purpose of this Bill is to provide a further sum of £700,000 for the making of grants for the erection and reconstruction of houses by private persons and the erection of houses by public utility societies, bringing the total provision under this head since the 1932 Housing Act to £3,500,000. Under the Act of 1932 we provided for this work £700,000. This was increased to £1,400,000 by the Act of 1934, and under two Acts in 1936 the sum of £1,400,000 was increased to £2,800,000. That amount has been fully allocated and as the time for completing the work expires on 31st March next the Government have decided to provide for the fifth time a sum of £700,000 to enable the work of building and rebuilding to continue to 31st March, 1939.
The amount of money allocated to private persons and public utility societies at 1st November, 1937 for the erection of houses in urban areas was £596,595 for the building of 11,481 houses and in rural areas £1,212,337 for the erection of 17,881 houses making a total of £1,808,932 for the building of 29,362 houses. The amount allocated for the reconstruction of existing houses at the same date was £967,063 in respect of 25,086 houses. These figures represent a total of £2,775,995 in allocations in respect of the erection and reconstruction of 54,448 houses.
The number of houses built under these grants at 1st November, 1937, was 19,954 of which 8,616 were erected in urban areas and 11,338 in rural areas. At the same date the total number of houses reconstructed by small farmers and agricultural labourers was 12,780. The total number of new houses built and reconstructed by private persons and public utility societies up to November was 32,734 as compared with 19,694 on 1st June, 1936. The amount paid by way of grants from the Act of 1932 to 1st November, 1937, was £1,893,390.
It is proposed to continue the payment of grants at the existing rates up to 31st March, 1939 with the exception of the grant of £45 in respect of houses erected in urban areas. Houses erected in these areas up to the 31st March, 1938, which comply with the statutory conditions will be eligible for grants. Section 3 of the Bill also makes provision for the payment of a grant in respect of houses in urban areas that are at present ineligible for grants because the houses were not completed by end of March 1937.
Outside Dublin City and County there has been very little done by private persons and public utility societies for the erection of houses in urban areas. When the first Housing Bill of 1936 was before the House on 19th February, 1936, I said that I was satisfied that in urban areas assistance could be withdrawn or, at any rate, considerably modified as regards the size of houses which should qualify for subsidy. Subsequently it was decided to restrict the floor area of the houses in urban areas that would be eligible for grants to 800 square feet. Up to then, a house up to 1,250 square feet in floor area was eligible for subsidy. It was hoped that the reduction in area would induce speculative builders to engage in the production of a house suitable to the requirements of the average working-class family and thus, to some extent, relieve the demand on the local authorities.
The change made in the law in 1936 has not materially altered the position. The bulk of the houses provided in urban areas are erected for sale. Very few are available for letting and in view of the growing demands on the Exchequer for slum clearance schemes it is felt that the time has come when the resources of the State must be reserved for this purpose and for the provision and improvement of the homes of small farmers and agricultural labourers in rural areas.
A portion of the additional grant of £700,000 to be provided under this Bill will be available for the improvement of housing accommodation for the working classes in urban areas. Hitherto grants for reconstruction have been confined to the improvement of the dwellings of small farmers and agricultural labourers. Representations have been made to me for extension of grants towards reconstruction of houses in urban areas. In these areas there are many houses structurally sound but defective in sanitary accommodation which, if reconstructed on proper lines, could be made suitable as single dwellings or converted into two or three self-contained dwellings. The reconditioning of houses which are structurally sound in such a way as to bring them up to modern standards of comfort and sanitation will help towards a solution of the slum problem in urban areas.
Under the Housing Act of 1931 an urban authority is empowered to require the owner of a house which can be put into repair at a reasonable cost to carry out necessary improvements. Most of the urban authorities have failed to exercise such powers and there are many houses occupied by the working classes which, by reconditioning and abatement of overcrowding, could be converted into suitable habitations. In determining whether a house is fit for human habitation regard must be had to the extent, if any, to which by reason of disrepair or sanitary defect the house falls short of any by-laws in operation governing the general standard of housing accommodation for the working classes in such district. Much has already been done in the removal of families from unfit houses in urban areas. From the passing of the Act of 1932 to the 31st March last 9,852 houses were ordered to be demolished. These houses contained 12,071 families, comprising 53,398 persons. The number of houses actually demolished was 6,122 which were inhabited by 7,853 families, comprising 36,535 persons. The clearance of slum areas has been well advanced throughout the country with the exception of the county borough areas.
The provision which is now being made for the reconstruction of houses should offer sufficient inducement to the owners to reconstruct them on modern lines and provide adequate sanitary accommodation. A grant not exceeding £40 or one-quarter of the cost of reconstructing a house unfit for human habitation, which is otherwise suitable or capable of being made suitable will be met out of Stage funds. In the county boroughs and the borough of Dun Laoghaire the State grant, will be conditional on a like contribution being made by the local authority concerned. In other urban areas it will optional for the local authority to supplement the State contribution. Power is being taken in the Bill to secure that the rent to be charged for a reconstructed dwelling will not be increased by reason of any expenditure from State or local funds.
I would like to make it clear that grants will be payable only in respect of houses that can be converted into suitable family dwellings. It is also intended to confine the grant to houses situate outside places that will require to be cleared under the provisions of the Act of 1931. In Dublin and other cities there are many houses on principal streets inhabited by the working classes the life of which, by proper reconditioning, can be extended for many years, and thus enable the local authority to confine its immediate operations to the clearance of the overcrowded and insanitary areas. The present proposals are of an experimental nature and will be subject to review as soon as practical experience of the extent and utility of the operations can be measured.
The Bill also provides for the funding of arrears of rent in connection with the labourers' cottage purchase schemes framed under the Labourers Act, 1936. When that Act was before the House it was suggested by several Deputies that arrears of rent might either be remitted altogether or funded. On the Committee Stage I said I would consider the suggestion in so far as it concerned funding but, at that time, the case put forward did not seem to warrant the amendment. The cottage purchase schemes under the Act submitted by boards of health have been examined in conjunction with the returns of the rent collections, and I am satisfied that a removal of the restriction on sale imposed by Section 16 of the Act, 1936, is necessary to enable speedy provision to be made for the sale of cottages and to facilitate the collection of the arrears. The method of funding the arrears is left to the board of health to decide according to circumstances.