By A. R. KERRELLVAUGHAN
Visiting Spain as the guest of the Spanish Government I have had the privilege of seeing the Viviendas Congress Eucharistico at Barcelona—the dwellings that have been built to commemorate the International Eucharistic Congress held there in 1952.
More than 2,500 dwellings have been completed and the ultimate population of the suburb will be in the region of 10,000.
Nowhere in Western Europe is the housing shortage more desperate than in Sperm In the hillsides many families live in caves, and there are thousands of roughly constructed shacks. The population of some 30.000,000 is rapidly increasing, largely because of improved health services.
Recovery from the ravages of the Civil War has been long and arduous in this basically poor country. Today the average wages of a workman amount to not more than £10 a month, and higher up the scale a bank clerk earns about
Another factor which aggravates the problem is the deep gulf between the rural and urban economy. So, besides the problem of overcrowded and deteriorating tenements, there is the pressure of a steady flow of people into the industrial regions.
Barcelona in particular has' a great number of squatters who have infiltrated far into the city.
BOTH the Government and the Church are very anxious about the situation, and each is making a tremendous contribution to the solution of the problem.
On two occasions the Bishop of Barcelona had exposed the grievousness of the problem and then he announced a scheme which inspired one of the greatest social projects to be seen in modern Spain.
A Patronage Board was formed to build a large number of dwellings to be let at low rents.
Mr. Kerrell-Vaughan is a housing expert and chairman of the Westminster Diocesan Catholic Parents and Electors' Association.
"We strive," said the Bishop, " that the result of the Eucharistic Congress shall be a profound renewal of spiritual and moral elevation, which may be achieved through the improvement of material and social conditions."
He sought the practical support of men who would give £1,000 each to become founder-members, and other subscribers to be members of honour and protectors. The groups of dwellings would " remain as one of the best monuments and remembrance of the International Eucharistic Congress, the greatest event undoubtedly which has taken place in Barcelona during the course of her glorious history."
The response was nothing short of a miracle. In a further pastoral letter the Bishop called for a crusade of prayer for the final solution of the housing problem and a blessing on the project for this Eucharistic city.
In the spring. V.C.E., as the housing corporation is now familiarly called, had purchased 450,000 square feet of land and building operations had started. At the end of the year the corporation had 107 founder-members and a capital of nearly £1,250,000.
ruHE Government-sponsored Institute Nacional de la Vivienda is responsible for coordination of operations for the building of low-rented dwellings. The present target, set in 1955, is to produce 500,000 dwellings in five years.
The Institute dispenses the various aids and subventions available under the law, helps in the acquisition of materials, and gives expert advice on practical questions. Under its mgis • municipalities, housing trusts, credit and mortgage banks, industrialists and private persons are encouraged to provide new dwellings.
One principal source of finance are the savings banks and pension funds, which are obliged by law to invest at least half their assets in houses. With further help by way of State loans, dwellings to be let at low rents are also granted exemption from stamp dutics, certain imposts and taxes (such as purchase tax on materials) and relief from land and chattel taxes.
THE blocks of flats—there arc to be nine of them— vary in height from between five to 13 stories; those above five have lifts.
There is good communication with the city, the journey to the centre being about 14 minutes by underground railway.
Provision is made for 145 shops and service depots.
A creche is in operation which I found absorbingly interesting.
Well-furnished with everything of height and dimensions appropriate to this Lilliputian communik , and administered by a community of manifestly well-trained and happy nuns, this is as good a place of its kind as I have seen in any Western European country.
There are several buildings for the cultural and social activities of the inhabitants, other special types of buildings will be a hostel for clerical and administrative workers, another for workmen, and one for the priests who administer this new parish and its new church with annexes, which will be the dominant feature of this inspired new town.
Here. social degradation can be banished and Christian families can flourish.
THE dwellings will become the property of the tenants.
The flats are let at monthly payments of from 175 to 325 pesetas ( 110 pesetas—fl), plus a surcharge of from 40 to 100 pesetas for administration, maintenance, insurance. porterage, etc., for an amortisation period of from 30 to 40 years, when the flats become the property of the tenants.
Twenty per cent. of the fiats are allotted to unskilled workmen, 30 per cent. to skilled workmen, 30 per cent. to clerical and distributive workers, and the remaining 211 per cent. to professional and independent people.
There is an overall reservation of 20 per cent. for newly-weds. for engaged couples are admitted to the waiting list,