GENERAL ARTICLES

Housing Headache

From a housing inspector’s report: "Airmen’s families live in rooms that are damp, vermininfested, cold, crowded"

LOTTA DEMPSEY June 1 1943
GENERAL ARTICLES

Housing Headache

From a housing inspector’s report: "Airmen’s families live in rooms that are damp, vermininfested, cold, crowded"

LOTTA DEMPSEY June 1 1943

Housing Headache

LOTTA DEMPSEY

From a housing inspector’s report: "Airmen’s families live in rooms that are damp, vermininfested, cold, crowded"

BEFORE THE war Kingston, Ont., was a fairly staid, rambling old college town. Today families of Air Force and military personnel stationed in the district and workers at the war plants have added 6,000 to the original population of 25,000. This addition, along with the thousands of men in uniform who crowd the town even although they are stationed outside it, has transformed Kingston from a comfortably filled city to a desperately overcrowded one whose facilities and services are strained to the breaking point.

Civic authorities estimate that ten per cent of the population is forced to live in slum conditions. Other hundreds of workers come as far as 40 miles for daily work, with large numbers living the year around at nearby summer resorts in cottages that were built for holiday use only.

Visit some of the tenements and dilapidated houses that are crowded with warworkers and families of fighting men. You’ll find in a former hotel semipartitions put up in dirty, damp rooms to make “apartments.” In one of these live a warworker, his brother and sister-in-law (both in warwork), his wife and daughter, who work in restaurants, another daughter whose husband is overseas, his mother and four small children, including a six-months-old baby.

The partition divides the living quarters into three sections with a corner spaced off for the pantry. The one room that serves as kitchendining-living room becomes a bedroom at night. The combined income of the group amounts to about $100 a week. Yet because there is no space outdoors, washing is hung across the living room, the garbage and ashes wait a week in the hall for collection, and broken windows are boarded up as well as possible.

This apartment house, which houses 40 people—• 25 of them adults—now brings in a yearly rental of $1,806 on an investment of $4,480 with taxes of $133.44. And that was after the Rental Control Board stepped in and lowered rents drastically.

Overcrowding in Kingston is particularly bad, but it is only one of 50 leading Canadian towns and cities faced with pressing congestion problems.

Halifax and Ottawa have had more publicity than other centres. Armed services personnel in Halifax have practically doubled the population. Administrative personnel have raised the Ottawa census figures by 28% since the outbreak of war.

But their claim to a corner on overcrowding will be contested by the municipal authorities of many other towns and cities—centres like Sydney, Moncton, Edmonton, Prince Rupert, Brandon, Vancouver, Victoria, Kingston, Brockville, Trail, Windsor, Hamilton and St. Catharines.

The Canadian Housing Census of 1941 showed

that to relieve overcrowding in cities of 30,000 and over would require new living quarters equal to the combined housing accommodation of Ottawa, Hamilton, London and Calgary. The Housing Census also estimated that at least 110,000 dwellings would be required to bring the Canadian standard up to the one that Britain is striving for —one person per room per house.

Space at a Premium

BUT THOUSANDS of hardworking Canadians from Halifax to Vancouver do not need statistics to prove to them that living space is at a premium. They have found it out by tramping streets in search of accommodation; by having to

find housing in shacks, cabins, basements, trailers, grain sheds, attics, summer cottages and barns.

Housing is one of the wartime problems shared by the National Housing Administration of the Department of Finance, the Department of Munitions and Supply’s Wartime Housing Limited, and the Wartime Prices and Trade Board. Each of these departments has reason to be cognizant of the rising tide of feeling on the part of badly housed Canadians.

These citizens, many of them living in quarters that challenge anything the depression years produced, are not unemployables or down-andouters. They are hardworking civilians or men in the armed forces. They can afford to pay decent rents.

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Housing Headache

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Going from east to west in Canada you find that in order to create quarters for its doubled population, Halifax has had to put beds in the corridors of hostels and other community buildings. Families live in attics, some too low-ceilinged for standing room, and in basements. One apartment, renting at $60 a month, was in a basement in which the family had to walk around the furnace to get from bedroom to living room. The bathroom was one floor up.

In a report from an eastern RCAF airport town, a housing inspector said recently, “Many of them (families of airmen) are living Cn places under deplorable conditions—places that could not be rented at any price in normal times. The rooms are dirty, vermin-infested, unsafe, cold and crowded to capacity. In some cases as many as twelve people share a common bathroom. Yet after paying their rent these

airmen can afford only the barest necessities of life.”

Montreal’s population has increased by 200,000 in the last three years. In a Government report on housing there a case was cited of four families living in a warehouse with no baths and inadequate toilet facilities. Each family pays a rent of $16.50 a month. In another part of the city three families were found in three small stores, with one toilet for 18 people.

In Toronto the Housing Registry set up by the Consumer Branch of the Wartime Prices and Trade Board in the City Hall has on record applications for 1,200 housing units that are urgently needed to accommodate citizens who are living now in too congested quarters.

Recently a skilled munitions worker left Toronto for the west after a two-weeks search for living quarters for his wife and two children. He is one of hundreds of

warworkers who report to Housing Registries and munitions personnel departments in such munitions producing centres as Toronto and Hamilton, that they are leaving their jobs and going to less crowded areas unless they can find decent living quarters. In discussing absenteeism, war plant managers point out the search for living quarters causes many lost days of work, and the badly housed worker is less efficient than the comfortably housed one.

West Coast Problem

nnHE INDUSTRIAL East is sharI. ing this problem of lack of housing with the West. Shipbuilding on the west coast and concentration of coastal defenses have made the situation just as pressing in Vancouver, Victoria, Prince Rupert and other British Columbia cities.

Victoria is trying to find accommodation for hundreds of newcomers. A housing registry recently opened there reports 800 familes in urgent need of accommodation. Vancouver is in an equally difficult position. Prince Rupert is struggling with a tripled population. Air Force men and their families are housed, many of them, in shacks without modern conveniences. Recently a hotel was found by authorities to have placed mattresses in small toilet rooms. Bathtubs, corridors and other such areas were also being used as sleeping quarters.

Edmonton, with its influx of thousands of American construction men and military technicians, has housed visitors in hotel dining rooms, theatres and church basements. As many as 70 or 80 applications a day for living quarters have been taken care of by the Chamber of Commerce and YWCA working together. Recently the Edmonton Medical Health Officer reported the case of a mother and six children living in one room, with no water available; another of a mother, father and child of eight living in a room nine by nine with a single bed The child sleeping on the floor). In another case a woman with scarlet fever was found in a room with two other residents, one bed and no running water.

Saskatchewan has seen the rise of huddles of shacks on the prairies adjacent to Air Force training schools and military camps. A typical one began its growth in May, 1941, when the air school opened north of Regina. Airmen bringing their families with them found nothing but a stretch of open prairie. Some of them searched the district until they acquired empty grain bins, which were hauled to the outskirts of the air school, and housekeeping was set up in them. Farmers in the district began to move over other grain bins. Small shacks began to appear. Today there are 139 premises in Boomtown. Sanitary conditions are of the frontier type. Until rental control officers visited the district rents were approaching bonanza proportions for the landlords.

In Wheatland and Rivers, Manitoba, villages which have had population booms because of a nearby airport, rentals were recently reduced by Government rental officers 10 to Ï3%. In one instance $25

monthly rental was paid by one family for a barn. A number of trailers and private garages are in use as living quarters. One man was found to be living in the body of an ancient Packard car which was banked with sawdust for warmth.

Pre-war Situation

SUCH IS the housing situation ir some centres in Canada today. The war, of course, is responsible for by far the largest part of the problem. But even before war came Canada was approaching a shortage of housing facilities.

A Government Housing Survey taken in 1918 estimated that the Dominion needed 50,000 new houses a year to keep pace with the population increase and to remedy the lack of housing facilities found at that time. From 1918 until the outbreak of the present war only 12,000 houses a year were built.

The depression was one cause for this. Another was the general indifference to planned housing. Whatever the causes, according to a report made in Parliament by A. M. Nicholson, M.P. for Mackenzie, fewer than one per cent of houses throughout the Dominion were vacant in 1939.

Thus no Canadian town or city was prepared for the inrush of warworkers and families of servicemen that struck many of them suddenly. Hardest hit have been tenants who before the war paid less than $25 a month rent. These comprise more than 60% of Canada’s million householders, according to the Dominion Bureau of Statistics. Only one of every ten Canadian families can afford a rent of more than $40 a month. Today many thousands of them are forced to pay more, often balancing their budgets by reducing expenditures on food.

While at least three departments of Government (Departments of Finance, Munitions and Supply and Wartime Prices) are concerning themselves with the housing problem, the greatest stumbling block in the way of the obvious answer—build more houses—is the acute shortage of building materials and, even more important, the shortage of manpower. Private industry, of course, continues to build some houses, but is severely handicapped by these shortages.

Some steps have been taken to improve the situation by these Government agencies. Wartime Housing has built and have in construction 17,200 temporary dwellings for warworkers and their families. War villages have been built beside munition plants. These are suitable just for wartime use, and fill the needs of warworkers only.

The WPTB has sponsored the opening of 30 Housing Registries, and formed an additional 24 housing committees in the towns and cities where overcrowding is most pressing. In 20 other towns and cities community organizations, such as YWCA’s, Chambers of Commerce, Social Welfare groups, have opened registries. These are finding homes for workers in residences whose owners are willing to help out in the emergency by taking in “Canadian war guests.’-

Big problem of the housing registries is to place the right people in the right homes. Women who have j never had strangers living in their houses are worried about the furnij ture and fittings, and the idea of other j women in their kitchens. Other householders, not understanding rental regulations, think that roomers once taken in, must be put up with whatever happens.

England has solved her housing problem simply and workably for the j duration by compulsory billeting. A house is inspected and a certain number of people are assigned to live in it, with some meals provided. Household tasks are assigned to each of the duration guests.

Some authorities believe such a compulsory scheme is the only solution to Canada’s problem. The Government has tended to the view, however, that the situation can be handled on a voluntary basis, once citizens are aroused to the need. It points out that although a recent Gallup poll in crowded areas disclosed that 86% of citizens feel they have no space to rent, the Dominion Housing Census of 1941 showed that only 25% of dwellings in Canada are overcrowded.

As one official who has just concluded a six months survey of housing for the WPTB says, so long as we are at war, with neither materials nor labor to spare for building enough housing accommodation for the civilian population, those citizens who have more space than they need face a responsibility to their fellow-citizens who are not adequately housed.

To provide accommodation voluntarily would only be a temporary solution to the housing situation, but might be one good stout beginning in the platform for a brave new world being talked about so much these days.