From a Special Correspondent NEARLY five years after the War the West German Parliament at Bonn has just passed a measure, aim of which is the building of 1,800,000 houses in the next six years.
If it is achieved it will provide an alleviation of a housing situation which is without parallel in other Western European countries.
This State action is, however , a follow up to what has long been the self-imposed task of Catholic and other charitable bodies.
At the great conference of German Catholics—the Katholiketnagat Bochum in September. 1949. it was not an uncommon sight to see a Bishop or other ecclesiastical dignitary walking about with a collecting box shaped like a house hung round his neck, and demanding alms to the extent of one hour's wa ges.
Whatever the results of the speeches and resolutions of that day -and Bochum will certainly be looked back at as a milestone in Catholic social teaching and practice —there will be one tangible result. Ninety thousand marks were collected and will provide the financial basis for a housing estate in which Catholic workers will enjoy their own homes and their own piece of ground whereby to supplement their wages.
The Bochum collecting box symbolises the family house. standing in its own plot of land. with its garden. and even with its grazing plot for sheep or goat, houses where independent families can grow up, in accordance with the Catholic ideal of property. however small. in the hands of everyone.
The Bochum collecting box. too, typifies a great deal of work which has gone on in all parts of Germany during the past five years, when the State was virtually helpless, and the Church was the only institution which survived the collapse.
A larger scale of operations is typified by the Building Club started by one of the cathedral clergy of Freiburg. This eventually had to he run from two centres at Freiburg in South and Karlsruhe in North Baden. By 1949 the Karlsruhe section had built 664 hottses; while at Freiburg the Catholic Men's Society collected on one Sunday no less than 1,000 marks for the homeless, making the collection an annual event.
A " Christian Building Society," bartering one article against another at a time when money had no purchasing value. built 1.000 houses at Augsburg before the currency reform in 1948.
In all, Catholic organisations in Germany have built 9.000 houses for 40.000 people since the war; Catholics are not the only ones to do this as the movement has been universal and spontaneous everywhere.
The varipus voluntary efforts have shown the direction which the State should follow; the new housing law will have as its aim the encouragement of voluntary effort and enabling the householder to acquire his own small piece of property.