Jerry-Building Menace in Provincial Towns
By C. W. DE NORMANVILLE, O.S.B.
THE Catholic family demands a home. Most families should own the houses in which they live and so have some measure of independence and economic freedom, but unfortunately both the Government and the local authorities dislike losing that control of the working-class which they exercise through the superlandlordism of the local Council.
The endless and onerous tribute in shape of loan charges paid by the working class people generation after generation is a tax on the family and often an economic deterrent affording some colourable excuse for not seeking to rear the normal family.
This loan charge is about 7s. a week on each house, and as things are the family pay this for their life-time and then hand on the burden to their children. Catholic Action should clamour insistently for the normal right of the family to become house owners.
They Have Been Swindled Some Catholics may think the building societies carry out this function and that their activities are fully in accord with Catholic principles.
The purpose of the building society is to be a kind of mutual benefit and thrift society, accepting loans and re-lending money to enable people to purchase their houses. Since the war some million and a half houses have been built and are in process of being purchased through the aid of the building societies. There are over a thousand building societies but by far the greatest amount of business is done by some five or six big societies.
They have a responsibility for the success of the Jerrybuilder.
It is an extraordinary fact that now the jerry-builders have made arge fortunes and swindled some tundreds of thousands of people nit of some millions of pounds, he Government suddehly wakes
is shocked, public interest is stirred, he Press is indignant.
Desperate For Privacy
It has been calculated by the National Pederation of Builders (and they should :now) that some 30 per cent. of the einfon and a half houses built by private nterprise are ferry-built.
The big building contractors who have een erecting hundreds of thousands of ousel round London are perhaps fairly ree from Jerry-builders' tricks as they ave built in thousands and can afford I build well and the competition 13 keen n provincial towns the jerry-builder has of away with it.
He operates in many towns at once, or asses from town to town. Having ought up shoddy materials, he descends a town where the local authority has, s is almost invariably the case, scandaiusly neglected to build houses at rents tat the working-class people can afford. There are thousands of people who are esperate for privacy and some comfort nd willing to pay an exhorbitant price ir it, and the desire is so keen that it linds them to all defects in the Jerryallt house. The local authority, where to local landlord is very vocal, does not )ject, as the weekly instalments will high and the competition is not .ared.
Landlords exert their fullest pressure prevent local authorities from build.g houses for working-class people to be t at an economic rent. They unite with e local builders and the more disreputae ferry-builder and they all play into .e hands of the building societies In rcing people to buy houses they can)t afford. This has been one of the rongest secret influences exerting a eel economic pressure upon married ople to have few or no children.
The Government and the local thorities look on with a shortsighted mplacency.
He Takes His Cash
The builder, especially the speculative Alder, who visits town after town in e disguise of fairy benefactor, rushes I houses with a short-lived internal. owy attractiveness, and traps the nple, through well-paid agents, into signing a deed leaving no loophole of escape (which they do with alacrity on assurance that there are no legal costs).
No guarantee is given about the house, but full guarantees are required regarding payments.
The non-resident builder has no reputation to build or maintain.
He takes his cash away and goes on to another town, or goes bankrupt through some housing company in one town and makes a fortune in another. He knows all the tricks of the Company Law. The English. people being propertyless, have lost the tradition of a reasonable thrift, so it has been necessary to overcome the difficulty of the ordinary deposit. Building societies will advance money up to 90 per cent. of the valuation of the house but that obviously requires a deposit of 140 to £60 according to the price of the house.
We all are now used to the astonishing advertisement of " only £5 deposit." Here is where the builder comes in. He assists the building society with his credit, but he is more than repaid by the sale of the house. The building society always has its own architect who examines the house and passes it as fit to stand for twenty years whilst it is being purchased. He gives no other certificate for the house as to its being well built and of good materials or worth the price that is being asked.
He knows perfectly well very often that the price is inflated to the extent of a hundred pounds or more. The purchaser wholly misunderstands the limits of the architect's report. The architect is the society's servant—not the purchaser's.
Authorities Keep It Quiet
Many people think that it is the duty of the local authority to see that all houses built in their area should be well built. The Government could so legislate but it has not yet done so.
The scope of local bye-laws in this matter is to see that the house is not injurious to the health of the tenants; propea damp courses and drainage come under this but not the general materials and structure.
If, however, the local authority is asked to advance money to a prospective purchaser then the local authority's official, generally the Borough Surveyor or their architect, will make a careful inspection of the house and give a proper valuation.
The local authority, under the Act, can advance up to 90 per cent. of the value of the house, the same as the building society, but they are not bound to. They are bound to charge 1 per cent. more than the market cost of the loan to them and this is invariably cheaper than the building society.
But the local authorities never advertise ta.eir cheap loan money and hence they have only advanced some £200,000,000, as compared with nearly f800,000,000 of the building societies. The speculative builder and the agent do. their utmost to keep all house building and the giving of loans from the local authority, the former because he does not want a just valuation of the house to be given and the latter because he gets no fee for a house purchased through the local authority.
Jerry-building could be prevented if the Government took the matter up seriously, but there are so many who are interested in Jerry-building and only a small section of the community suffer grievious financial loss and they all belong to one comparatively poor class whose common lot in life is to suffer injustice with patience and resignation.
The Half Million Defrauded
The building society is not injured by the profiteering Jerry-builder; in fact he is a great help in finding a market for their surplus funds, and at the end of twenty years, if not before, there will be fresh calls for loans for extensive structural repairs. In fifty years they will not be worth maintaining and a new house will have to be built:
The worst builder is the best friend of the building society.
The building societies are almost regarded by the Government as a department of the Ministry of Health. The societies, with their huge capital, exercise great influence over the Government and readily obtain legislation to safeguard their rights and further their interests.
The half million defrauded house purchasers are not united, and their anguished cries will do little to move the stolid complacency of the Government unless other powerful agencies join in the chorus of protest.
It is not improbable either that there are shortsighted but officially "important " people in the Government and the Ministry of Health who regard the jerry-builder not as an enemy to the cornmunity but as a harmless product of a
new civilisation. These people also regard a stationary population as an ideal so there is something to be said for houses which last only a generation. The building trade has got to be maintained. Of course a stationary population is a myth and the whole argument unsound economically, but there it is.
Of course these officially " important " people would not have their own houses jerry-built; their own money wasted.
Wilkinson Bill Killed
Ellen Wilkinson, M.P., sought to abolish the Jerry-builder by a Private Members BM, but her Bill has been promptly killed as it sought to put a burden on the building societies.
She wished to make the building societies responsible for the efficient building of the house on which they lent money or to enable the purchaser to come upon the society, in default of the builder, for structural repairs through dishonest work.
It was argued in opposition that the societies are only mutual benefit eocietiee, receiving money and lending it again to much the same class of people.
This is mere evasion.
If the building societies are benefit societies they should live up to the name. It is certainly no benefit to lend money on the kind of transaction described above. Besides, the societies are not just mutual benefits; the greatest beneficiary is the enormous hierarchal bureaucracy (from typist and office-boy to directors with huge salaries) which manages these colossal concerns. They surely are indirectly guilty of participating in dishonest trade.
The Government Bill will probably just protect the ail-powerful building societies by legalising the builders' pool and leaving the poor victim of the Jerrybuilder to look after his own interests.
The National Federation of Builders submitted a practical scheme which assisted the honest builder and would have effectively eliminated the Jerrybuilder. It only needed the Government to ratify the scheme or the local
authorities to forbid any builder to operate except under the scheme. The scheme proposed: (a) Minimum standard of specification for ordinary houses.
(b) The registration of builders who undertook to build houses in conformity with this standard.
(c) The certification of houses so built.
(d) The establishment of a National Council to deal with registration and certification.
No local authority was likely to Initiate the scheme of its own accord. as builders are people of substantial wealth and with a proportionate control of the local Councils, which would tear to impose the irksome restrictions of a minimum specification demanding seasoned wood, proper plaster, bricks and mortar, etc.
The person who can afford to employ a private architect is protected from dishonest deceits of the jerry-builder, but it is imperative that some effective protection should be extended to the less affluent members of the community, who are quite incapable, as experience proves, of detecting the shoddy workmanship under the attractive exterior appearance of the fragile jerry-built house.