Page images
PDF
EPUB

opportunities in this matter which few other countries have. The sites on which many of the young cities are growing up are splendidly situated; the enormous natural resources which attract the population make continuous increase and prosperity practically certain. Unless, however, action on the part of the Governments and the authorities concerned is prompt, the most deplorable results in the shape of slums and wastage of human life will follow. Without proper regulation, control and forethought, the very rapidity of growth will work the destruction of all that is best in city life. Land speculators and others may make quick fortunes, but the dwellers in the city will decay. Take the city of Montreal, for example. It is as certain as anything can be that its increase of population will for some years be from 40,000 to 50,000 a year; in other words it will, in ten years, have added another half-million, or doubled its population. Unless scientific town-planning and strong action generally in the matter of housing is adopted, one of the finest sites in the world for a great and noble city will be converted into a vast network of slums or mean and shabby streets, dependent for the energy to continue its existence as a city, not on its own life-giving qualities, but upon the continual supply of fresh immigrants from other parts of the world. And what is true of Montreal is to a greater or less degree true of many of the other cities and towns of Canada. This question is one of the most urgent which Canada has to deal with; and, if she handles it boldly and in a public-spirited way, there is no doubt that the results will give her full reason for additional pride.

Lord Rosebery recently referred to the existence of a large number of empty houses, implying that the subject was deserving of serious consideration. It is.

An enquiry, however, would probably show that many of these houses are, for various reasons, quite unsuitable to present needs. The truth is that the individual ownership of houses, more particularly by comparatively poor people, valuable as it is in many ways, leaves something to be desired on important points. Few individual owners of houses proceed on the business-like assumption that house property has a tendency to decay or get out of date. Consequently, no sinking fund is created out of the revenue to repair wastage, or replace the building after a lapse of time. On the assumption that the gross revenue is the net revenue, the property is passed from one generation to another; and it comes as a shock to the owner one day that, through the steady and inevitable decay which has been going on, or because the accommodation is quite behind the needs of the time, the houses will not let, and that a large capital expenditure is required to put things right. A sinking-fund to meet contingencies of this sort should be regarded as a charge on the revenue quite as legitimate as, say, fire insurance; and house property, not charged with this risk, is not administered on sound business principles. If a small sum had been placed on one side yearly, there would be funds available to bring most of the houses now empty into a condition which would bring tenants at once. The fact is that a very large proportion of the present owners of unlet houses have no funds to fall back upon to carry out any improvements.

Another difficulty involved in the individual ownership of houses is the absence of control over the character of the neighbourhood. Thrifty investors often sink the whole of their savings in one house, the value of which may decline by 25 per cent., owing not to any change for the worse in the particular house, but to the fact that the residents of adjacent houses have entirely changed in character. Houses once let to self-respecting tenants have become overcrowded lodging-houses, and well-kept gardens have been converted into receptacles for rubbish of all sorts. Whole areas in the London suburbs have, within the past thirty years, been built upon and depreciated in this way. Once give a neighbourhood a start in this direction, and it will soon run down. It is difficult to suggest a general remedy for this evil; but it almost seems that nothing short of some form of corporate control or ownership over a neighbourhood will check such deterioration.

On the other hand, there is much that is attractive in the principle of a man having a sense of possession of the house in which he lives, and an interest in the economical administration of the property. On the Co-partnership Tenants estates, an effort is made to meet the situation by combining corporate control with a personal interest

[ocr errors]

in the profits arising from a right and an economical use of the property. The methods adopted by a Co-partnership Tenants Society are briefly these: (1) to purchase in the suburb of a growing town an estate and to plan or lay out the same, so as to provide suitable playingsites for the tenants and their children ; to insist on reasonable limitation of the number of houses to the acre, so that each house may have a private garden, and on pleasing architectural effects in the grouping and designing of the houses; (2) to erect substantial houses, provided with good sanitary and other arrangements for the convenience of stock-holders desiring to become tenants ; (3) to let these at ordinary rents, so as to pay a moderate rate of interest on capital (usually 5 per cent. on shares, and 4 or 44 per cent. on loan stock), dividing the surplus profits, after providing for expenses, repairs and sinking fund, among the tenant stock-holders, in proportion to the rents paid by them. Each tenant stock-holder's share of profits is credited to him in capital instead of being paid in cash, until he holds the value of the house tenanted by him, after which all dividends may be withdrawn in cash.

In such societies it will be seen that an individual can obtain practically all the economic advantages which would arise from the ownership of his own house. Capital is obtained at a rate of interest below which the individual could not usually borrow to build or buy his own house, while the preliminary and other expenses are less than under the individualist system. By taking as his security scrip for stock in an association of tenant stockholders, instead of a deed of a particular site and house, the tenant averages the risk of removal with his copartners in the tenancy of the estate. The value of his accumulated savings is therefore kept up, and can be transferred, if desired, at less cost than land or house property to the same value. The results of an individual's thrift are in this way made mobile as well as his labour or ability.

The first Housing Society to adopt the system of sharing the profits with its tenants, after a fixed interest on capital had been paid, was the Tenant Co-operators, Limited, which was registered in 1888. Thirteen years later, in 1901, there came into existence another society

6

in the western outskirts of London, the Ealing Tenants, Limited. By concentrating its operations on one estate, the Ealing Society was able to include many features, such as a model estate plan, an institute, recreation and playing sites, which are impossible if the property is scattered in different districts. It thus established for itself the claim of being The Pioneer Co-partnership Village’; and under the title of 'Co-partnership in Housing' the movement has made rapid strides in the last nine years. There are now fourteen societies, holding property at the end of 1911 to the value of about 1,005,0001., and engaged in developing further property to the value of about 1,207,5001.

Mr Unwin, the Consulting Architect to the Co-partnership Tenants Society, has well said that the Co-partnership Tenants movement marks a new era in housing; for not only is the individual likely to procure for himself a better house and a larger garden by obtaining them through a Co-partnership Society than by any other means, but the introduction of co-operation opens up quite a new range of possibilities. Through the medium of co-operation all may enjoy a share of many advantages, the individual possession of which can only be attained by the few. The man who is sufficiently wealthy may have his own shrubberies, tennis-courts, bowling-green, or play-places for his children, and may, by the size of his grounds, secure an open and pleasant outlook from all his windows; but the individual possession of such grounds is quite out of reach of the majority. A Copartnership Association can, however, provide for all its members a share of these advantages, and of far more than these. In fact, the scope of the principle is limited only by the power of those who associate to accept and enjoy the sharing of great things in place of the exclusive possession of small things.

In exceptional cases some enlightened owner company may so lay out an estate as to provide for the common enjoyment of some of the advantages of the site; but usually, everything is sacrificed which will not produce a revenue, and which cannot be divided up into the individual self-contained plots, marked by the maximum degree of detachment, which are so desired by those who know only of individual possession and have

or

not learned the joys of sharing. Where a site is being developed on co-partnership lines the whole position is changed. Instead of a chance assortment of individuals there is now a whole to be thought of and planned for. A home is to be made for a community with something like an organised common life. A centre is needed for this life ; institutes, clubs, schools, or places of worship may form such a centre, towards which the design can be made to lead. The site can be thought of and planned as a whole; and the certainty of some degree of cooperation will enable spots of natural beauty and distant views of hill and dale to be preserved for common enjoyment. Play-places and shelters for the children, greens for tennis, bowls or croquet can be arranged, with the houses so grouped around them that, while they provide the occupants with recreation ground, they also afford both more pleasant prospects from the windows and more attractive views for the streets. In this way, instead of the buildings being mere endless rows, or the repetition of isolated houses having no connexion one with the other, they will naturally gather themselves into groups; while the groups again, clustered around the greens, will form larger units, and the interest and beauty of grouping will at once arise. The principle of sharing, therefore, not only causes each individual house to become more attractive, but gives to the whole area covered that coherence which, springing from the common life of the community, expresses itself in the harmony and beauty of the whole. This harmony of outward expression must in turn react on the life that flourishes under its influence, at once stimulating the growth of co-operation and giving wider opportunities for its practice.

It is clear that good town and city planning is greatly facilitated where building estates are being developed by Public Utility Societies or companies, such as those connected with the co-partnership movement. A public authority genuinely anxious to plan its area on enlightened principles is in a position, under the Housing and Town-planning Act, to make concessions of considerable value to estate developers, not only without detriment to the public interest, but actually so as to promote it; on the other hand, it can secure, in return for these concessions, valuable help from the estate-owners in

« PreviousContinue »