By JOHN G. CAMPBELL
IT is possible to present a complete Catholic housing policy, practicable, morally right and economically sound.
In my first article (C.H., July 14, 1950) I explained a scheme for home ownership by means of self-building, the costs being from 6s. a week. The present scheme is for those who wish to engage a builder in the ordinary way, the cost of purchase working out at 20s. to 30s. a week over the period.
It is also one for the workers : and this is to the very heart of the matter, to the justification of the whole plan.
There are in the working classes many varieties of households" manymansions": the labourer with his £5 weekly; the skilled tradesman with his £9 or £10; the families with several wage earners, There is no " working class"; there are the working classes.
Here is the truth that is fundamental to the housing problem, and to every other social problem. And to Catholics it should be axiomatic that any solution that is not based on sound principle, that does not first entail a view of the truth, is bound to fail. Truth prevails. Only truth works out.
Against this social truth there is the Marxist error of "universalism " that " the workers " are a featureless mass, tending to a common level. This is the calamitous error that has influenced, even unconsciously, so many minds today, inhibiting all progress, and causing assent to solutions which effect still further a levelling down. (Nowhere more than in the sphere of housing can the pernicious effects of this error be more plainly seen.) But contrary to this error there is the further shining truth : that in the working classes themselves there is a natural tendency, ever present, for the lower to rise to the higher : a genial and salutary urge continually revitalising society, giving a natural upthrust towards a higher order. The means by which this high aspiration attains its objective te ownership. Ownership is the principle of all social development. Here is the grand principle derived from the immortal declaration of Pope Leo XIII: " The law, therefore„ should favour ownership. and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners." This is the necessary approach to a Catholic housing policy.
THE scheme proposes that the
State (either directly or through approved channels) should grant interest-free loans for the erection of houses.
By this method, it will be seen, there would not only be effected considerable economies in the household itself, but great reductions in the present fabulous sums spent by the State on housing. A house of about six rooms can be built today for roughly £1,400 and there are Press reports of such houses being built for considerably less.
Assuming the cost of the house to be £1,400 and the deposit £200, then the loan would be £1,200. This sum (always remembering the loan is interest-free) would mean, over a 25year period, annual repayments of only £48. Such repayments-of less than £1 a week-ere certainly within the reach of many workers' purses, and are in ntany cases less than the rents of the Stale houses. And, as with the former scheme, these payments are not rent.
The tenant of a State house pays rent; and at the end of 25 years possesses nothing-not even security of tenure.
The owner-occupier at the end of the period has no more payments to
meet. and possesses a house of very considerable value : that family is well on its way to becoming " dep roleta rianised."
Certainly it must be recognised that the ownership plan belongs to the very pattern of the Catholic life. In the matter of the national economy it would he well to dispense with the complicated statistics of the various kinds of Governmental expenditures. And fortunately a recent statement by the convener of the Glasgow Housing Committee gives the appropriate figures in ad mirably condensed form : the total subsidies on a State house are £23 a year for 60 years plus 91d. in the £ on the rates. That is, considering the rating level, the subsidy on each house cannot be less than £1,500.
AGAINST this the policy of ' home ownership shows the most wholesome contrast.
'Faking the average loan as one of 11,200, and assuming the money to cost the State as much as 4 per cent. all in, then the subsidy on each house would be one of only £600. In other words we have to pay almost £1.000 more than is necessary on each house to maintain the present system of State housing.
Nor can true economy be measured merely in terms of money. Under the ownership system the elan of the people would be restored; the energies of individuals and builders, of all the people, would be harnessed to the task : the houses would spring up. With one further point it will be seen how admirably such a policy serves the true harmony of the social
order. As more houses are constantly being built there are more for sale at " second-hand": that is, the worker at lower cost is continually being enabled to higher standards. The true policy " raises up" society.
Thus again, the axiom of Pope Pius XI can be seen fully justified : What is morally right is economically sound.
What of the housing policy of the day, that policy which the Socialist ethos of society seems to have imposed on both the political parties ?
Those wishing a State house (and what others are there ?) must register, and are then interviewed by the officials. Already the thing has that Communist air.
And when. after ten years or so, a State house is ultimately gained. what are the conditions the tenant encounters ?
There is no security, no opportunity to make a permanent home; for the family is " decanted" (as the ghastly official phrase has it) into a larger or smaller house as it increases or its members leave home.
'The tenant is forbidden to keep poultry, and in some cases even domestic pets. And even the gardens and the wallpaper in the rooms must conform to the official specifications.
To anyone of normal human instincts the whole business is re
pugnant. And are there any who can fail to appreciate the degree to which society has already acquiesced in this State supervision of the home, how, imperceptibly. the minds of the people are being conditioned to a Communist scheme of things ?
THE people have demanded homes, and were promised
" housing." But even this rudimentary solace has failed to materialise.
An unprecedented effort. it was announced, would be made by the State, with private building practically prohibited so that all energies would be conserved for the State's gigantic leap forward : the result was that in England and Wales in 1948 some 200.000 houses were erected.
But before the war, from 1935 onwards, there was erected a yearly average of over 330.000 houses, and of this more than two-thirds were the result of private building. Not only that, since 1935 there has been an increase of almost 3,000.000 in the population. One can only say, the facts speak for themselves.
Of course. it is said that there is a shortage of mater ials. But everyone knows of the huge. new offices for the administrators, of the great luxurious transatlantic terminal. of the steel beams which arc actually being used for the erection of new advertisement hoardings. However, let facts again tell the tale-of the value of all building work in 1948 housing was less than the third. (All figures from Abstract of Statistics, 1949.) This, then, is the state of affairs to which the politicians allude when they inform the homeless that housing can only be part of a " coordinating plan."
The truth is that Socialist planning, State Socialism, is now a cancer which is (literally) eating out the heart of the nation.
Yet the world had been warned of it all, in the most exact terms. Sixty years ago the great Pope Leo XIII forecast to the peoples the fruits of Socialism, In his Rerum Novarant (1948 ed. par. 12) he declared that this State supervision would bring about " the levelling down of all to a like condition of misery and degradation."
The warning could hardly have been more precise; and if Catholics had not become devotees of "cultural Socialism " with all the rest. it is probable that we would have been spared much of the chaos and misery of the day. This "cultural Socialism " is but the slothful acquiescence in man's subject ion arid dc-personification before the State. it can only bring an increasing torpor and degradation. And if persisted in, it will ultimately hurl society into barbarism.
Not housing, not any social problem, can be solved but by a return to the truth.
A TRUE housing policy must ' first of all take into account the true nature of man and the family.
Man is also a spiritual being; and the family is doubly a sacred institution. Therefore, man and the family must have not alone shelter, but privacy, provision for their dignity, and the necessary security for their full growth.
This, then, entails a Catholic policy tinder these three points : 1. Large family houses.
2. Costs the family can afford.
3. Home ownershipfor full security and family stability.
The plan set forth, under the two main schemes, attempts to embody these points, and obviously it is one which must make an instinctive appeal to Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
But it is mainly we Catholics, as harbingers of the truth, who must impress upon the community at large that in the natural moral law is the only remedy for the ghastly evil which today afflicts our society.