In connection with housing schemes, it sometimes happens that delays which are avoidable or sometimes unavoidable occur and that much additional expense is placed upon local bodies before sanction is forthcoming. I do not blame the Department for the delay, because I am aware of the fact that, although it sanctions plans and specifications for housing schemes, they have to wait until sanction is procured from the Minister for Finance. In a scheme in Dundalk the delay of a month or two meant a difference of from £400 to £500, and meant a loss, as a result of which the council was obliged to put an additional 5d. or 6d. on the rents of £30 houses. Where the Department and the Minister for Finance have reason to believe that a housing scheme is all right, no undue delay should occur, especially at a time like the present, when prices of materials go up and down in a very short space of time.
I also want to draw the attention of the Minister to his action recently in only allowing 15 per cent. for a certain housing scheme which the Urban Council of Dundalk put up a year or so ago. In the year 1935-36 the council formulated a scheme for the building of 48 houses on St. Alphonsus Road. The conditions governing housing schemes carried out by local authorities, so far as I understand them, are: that there is a grant of 66? per cent. given in the case of houses which are built to re-house people from unhealthy areas, and a grant of 33? per cent. for what one may call normal housing schemes. I am a member of the Dundalk Urban Council, and we thought that the time had arrived when houses to suit the needs of artisans should be built. We thought that no house could be too good for the working man if he was in a position to pay for it, and, consequently, we decided to build these 48 houses. The only difference between them and the other types of houses in respect of which we are entitled to receive 33? per cent. from the Department of Local Government is the addition of a bathroom. Considering all that has been said about the importance of health, and all the money that has been expended in providing sewerage and water schemes with a view to improving the health of the people, we thought that we would have been commended for our efforts in having a bath-room provided in each of these 48 houses.
What did we find when we came to fix the rents? We had a communication from the Minister to say that he would only be prepared to sanction a grant of 15 per cent. towards the charges on that scheme of 48 houses. The excuse he put forward for his action was that the people going into the houses should be able to build their own houses. If they were in that position, then I would agree with the Minister, but instead, they are ordinary working class people. As I said to-day on the Cement Bill, instead of waiting on for years in a house until it was condemned, they decided to take one of these houses. If they continued to live on in a house until it was condemned they would then be able to get a new house at 5/- a week, to the cost of which the Government makes a contribution of 66? per cent. I can assure the Minister that the working men who have gone into those 48 houses are not millionaires, as the Minister and his Department seem to think. Instead of the council being able to let those houses at 8/10 per week, as they thought they would, assuming that the got the 33? per cent., they have now to charge a rent of 10/4 per week, exclusive of rates. The inclusive rent is somewhere in the region of 13/4 per week.
I want to draw the attention of the members of the Party opposite and of the members of the Labour Party and, in fact, the members of all Parties, to what I am about to say. The tenants in those 48 houses are men who work at the docks. They have three, four or five members in their families, and wanted a decent house. Just imagine a poor man working on one or two days a week at the docks being charged a rent of 13/4 a week for his house, and all because the Minister will only sanction a grant of 15 per cent. towards its erection, while the man who may be earning £4 a week, but who happens to be living in a condemned house, is able to get a new house at 5/- or 5/6 a week, the reason being that the Government, in the case of condemned houses, give a grant of 66? per cent. for the rehousing of the tenants. What happens, in fact, is that the unfortunate man who is compelled to pay a rent of 13/4 a week has to subsidise, through the rates that he pays, the provision of a new house at 5/- or 5/6 a week for a man whose income may be from £1 to 30/- a week more than his own. I think that is a terrible state of affairs, and is due to this: that we simply provided a bathroom in each of those 48 houses. The Minister holds that they are a superior type of house, and that the tenants are not entitled to receive the benefit of the 33? per cent. grant. I think that the action of the Minister and his Department is not just, equitable or fair. The people who occupy those houses are not income-tax payers. I cannot understand the mentality that is behind the action taken by the Minister and his Department, and why there should be this differentiation between various sections of our people. I feel very strongly about this. The only reason that I can see for this ill-advised action is that it was prompted by a small coterie in Dundalk who; for political reasons, thought that they would get a rap at the urban council for erecting houses of this type. In other words, the scheme was opposed by certain people who believed that we should proceed with the erection of houses for people living in slums, forgetting at the same time that we were already engaged on such schemes. We thought that it would be a good thing if we could erect this type of house for the decent type of worker. We have been penalised for doing so. I am not of a suspicious turn of mind, but I have a shrewd idea that what has happened in this case was the result of the ill-advised campaign to which I have referred. There were some people who believed that the action taken by the Minister would be a deterrent, so far as the members of the urban council were concerned, as regards proceeding with schemes of a similar nature. Those silly fools forgot that it was not the council they were hitting, but the unfortunate people who have to pay a rent of 13/4 a week for houses they ought to be able to get at about 10/6 a week.
In my opinion, the Minister is in duty bound to make restitution to those 48 people for the rents that they have been compelled to pay during the last 18 months or two years—at least 1/6 a week more than the minimum. The Minister may say that the council should meet the situation by a contribution from the rates. So far as the housing of the working classes is concerned, the council have already done sufficient not to be asked to subscribe any more. I want to tell the Minister that this scheme has cost the council over £425 10s. in the way of claims under the Conditions of Employment Act, which was passed before the scheme was finished. The council had to make good that sum to the contractor. That was the extra amount that he had paid. The council also had to put in a special water scheme to provide water for those tenants, so that these two items, added together, make a total of over £900 which has to be met out of revenue. I think that is a very good contribution from the Dundalk Urban Council towards this housing scheme. What we feel is that those people should not be charged this rent of 13/4. It is not fair to ask a man who may not be earning more than £2 10s. a week to pay a rent of 13/4. As I have already pointed out, the ironical part of it is that, for the reasons I have given, a man who may be earning from £1 to £1 10s. a week more is able to have a house at 5/- or 5/6 a week, thanks to the subsidy which the man charged a rent of 13/4 a week has to pay through the rates. That is the position. I know it is very difficult for the Minister to pass an Act to suit all classes, or to have rents on a sliding scale such as obtains in some of the big cities in England. Until that day comes, the Minister should reconsider his position in regard to these 48 houses and allow the urban council the full 33? per cent. to which they are entitled. It was not mandatory on the Minister to do this; it is a matter of discretion. Under one of the Housing Acts, the Minister may, or may not, make a grant of not more than 33? per cent. or 66? per cent. on any housing scheme, which means he may give less. In this case he has come to a decision which I think involves a very grave injustice, and I hope the Minister will see his way to reconsider this whole matter and notify Dundalk Urban Council that he is prepared to give the full 33? per cent. in the case of houses costing up to £350.
While various suggestions have been made to the Minister as regards expediting the erection of houses, very little, if anything, has been suggested as to the reduction of the cost of building. I often wonder why a little house costs £300 or £350, as against £100 or £120 in pre-war days. It seems that a great many people think that this country is made of money, that we have a big empire at our backs, and that houses can be built in a night. Everybody seems to go out of his way to increase the cost of houses. I think that is hardly fair to the working classes, some of whom have small wages, since it involves their paying 5/-, 6/- or 7/- per week in rent.
You had people living in what were called slums. They were got out of these slums by the good work of the Minister, but we should remember that when they go into new houses they have to pay 5/- where before they were paying 2/6, which means that they have 2/6 less for food. If I had to choose between keeping my family in a house that would be called a slum and feeding them well, and living in a good house for which I would have to pay £1 a week and half-starve my family, I should prefer to rear a healthy family in a slum house. People seem to forget that there is a snag in this matter of providing good houses for the people inasmuch as the extra 2/6 or 3/- means a terrible lot to poor people who may be in receipt of only 10/- or 15/- a week. Nothing seems to be done to help the Minister to deal with the high cost of building. People seem to think it is their duty to collar every little grant that is made by the Minister, and very little of this money goes to the people who occupy the houses. Those who are interested in the question should consider this aspect of it and help the Minister, who, undoubtedly, has done great work in providing houses for the working classes. They should see if the cost of building could not be reduced so that the Minister could build a larger number of houses and, above all, have those houses let at a lesser rent. So far as the Minister and his Department are concerned, they have, undoubtedly, done great work, but the members of the Dundalk Urban Council have a real grievance in connection with that scheme of 48 houses on Saint Alphonsus Road. Without any display of egotism, I may say that Dundalk Urban Council have done their part in the provision of proper housing accommodation. We feel that we have been very badly treated, and the tenants feel that they have been badly treated by the Department of Local Government in allowing only 15 per cent. of the loan charges where in all equity they should have allowed 33? per cent.