Housing Sites

Soil.-Natural soil is primarily derived from the subsoil by decomposition of the mineral ingredients, and with the addition of animal and vegetable matter. T h e subsoil which starts at that depth where organic matter is no longer present forms the less weathered stratum immediately under the soil.

The factors which influence the healthiness of a soil are : the slope and permeability, which affect drainage ; freedom from excessive vegetation ; and absence of organic matter. Of the soils, gravel is healthiest. Sand and sandstone are healthy if free from clay and if the ground-water level is not high. Chalk is healthy, but marly chalk is impermeable, cold, and damp. Alluvial land including clay and dry marl is unhealthy and marshy. Made soil is unsatisfactory as a building site for many years.

Lying on the first impervious stratum is the ground-water. Its level varies, there usually being a rise in the late autumn owing to increased percolation. A persistently low level of 15 to 20 ft. below the surface is healthy ; while a persistently high level at 3 to 5 ft. below the surface is unhealthy, giving a chill damp soil. T h e soil above the ground-water is moistened from it b y capillary attraction, b y evaporation, and by movement of water, causing ground moisture.
A damp soil increases the incidence of rheumatism, catarrh, and pulmonary diseases, including tuberculosis.
Building Sites.—Desiderata : T h e site should have a free circulation of air, but be protected from exposure. It should have sunshine, dryness, warmth, light, and air. Ν. and Ν.Ε. aspects are cold, and S . warm. From the N.W. come boisterous winds, and from S.W. wind and driving rain. T h e S.E. aspect is dry and mild, escaping wind and rain. While evaporation from trees dries the ground, vegetation too near the house makes it damp, obstructing both light and air.
The most porous soils are the healthiest and warmest, e.g., gravel and sand. Bad sites are shallow beds of gravel and sand lying in clay, reclaimed land near rivers, or alluvial land.

Fitness of Houses.

Standard of Fitness,—A fit house should be free from serious dampness ; satisfactorily lighted and ventilated ; properly drained and provided with adequate sanitary con- veniences and with a sink and suitable arrangements for disposing of slop water ; and in good general repair. In addition it should have a satisfactory water-supply, adequate washing accommodation, adequate facilities for washing and preparing food, and a well-ventilated food store.
Dampness,—Dampness may be caused by :—
ι. Moisture from the ground, the * rising damp \ It is prevented by the insertion of a damp-proof course (e.g., two layers of slate set in cement, sheet bitumen, copper sheeting) in the external wall above the natural ground level and below the lowest timbers or floor supports.
2. Rain beating against the surface of the wall. Preventive measures include repointing or treatment of the exterior surface, e.g., a covering of slate or pebble dash.
3. Rain soaking downwards or resulting from defective structures such as roofs or gutters, water-pipes, etc.
Another cause of dampness in buildings is condensation of the aqueous vapour in the air. It is primarily the result of the lowering of the temperature of the moist air in contact with a cold wall to below dew point, the condensed water being deposited on the wall surface. T h e remedy is improved heating, which in turn will allow sufficient ventilation.
Noise.—Increasing attention is now being given to the nuisance from noise. Apart from preventing sleep and rest, noise has a disastrous effect on the nervous system and results in a reduced efficiency of the worker. Legislation such as that prohibiting the use of car hooters at night can reduce the volume of noise outside. In certain circumstances noise can be treated as a nuisance under the Public Health Acts. By-laws can control the noise from wireless loud- speakers, gramophones, etc. Housing construction can play its part in reducing the volume of noise to which those indoors are subjected, e.g., by the provision of double windows. Reverberation is reduced by lining the hard internal finish- ings with sound-absorbent material.

Evidence of Bad Housing.—This may be based on :—

ι. Structural signs of insanitation, including overcrowding of the houses to the area, and the relative position of houses to one another.
2. The health of the population accommodated, as judged
by the general standard of personal cleanliness, the sickness rate, and the death-rate. There is probably no subject in the whole range of preventive medicine in which the evidence is so definite as in regard to the ill effects of bad housing on the human organism. Sickness rates are high, especially for infectious, contagious, and respiratory diseases, verminous conditions, debility, anaemia, and constitutional maladies. T h e general death-rates are high, and the expectation of life low. These high rates are largely due to an excess of the commoner infectious diseases, of epidemic diarrhoea, of respiratory diseases, and of infant mortality.
3. Social conditions, including overcrowding.
Housing and Health.—There are two aspects of housing in relation to disease—viz., insufficiency, and unsuitability of what accommodation is available. Insufficiency leads to overcrowding. Unsuitability may arise from :—
ι. Overcrowding of the Site.—This results in a deficiency of light, of open spaces, and of playing fields.
2. Overcrowding of the Home.—Crowding favours the spread of infectious diseases and of pulmonary tuberculosis. In addition it leads to diminished personal cleanliness and lowered physique, leading to debility, fatigue, unfitness, and reduced powers of resistance. The Housing Act standard specifies a minimum sleeping-room accommodation of 40 sq. ft. per head for an adult and 30 for a child. A house is statutorily overcrowded (a) if any two persons of the oppo- site sex over ten years of age and not being persons living together as husband and wife have to sleep in the same room ; or (b) if the number of occupants exceeds the permit- ted number, which for a two-roomed house, not exclud- ing the living room-, is 3 units, for a three-roomed house 5, for a four-roomed house η\, and for a five-roomed house 10 units. A child over 1 year of age and under 10 years counts as \ unit.
3. Insufficient Air Space and Ventilation.—Absence of effective through-ventilation means deprivation of the stimulating effect of cool fresh moving air. Changes in temperature, dust, and contact infection bear an intimate, possibly causal, relationship to the whole group of catarrhal and bronchitic diseases which contribute so heavily to invalidity and mortality.
4. Dampness.—This favours rheumatism and respiratory affections, especially pulmonary tuberculosis.
5. General Insanitation.—The expression c sanitary defect ‘ includes lack of air space or ventilation, darkness, dampness, absence of an adequate or readily accessible water-supply or sanitary accommodation or of other conveniences, and inadequate paving or drainage of courts, yards, and passages.
In general the sickness rates and the mortality-rates are highest where the density of housing is greatest, where over- crowding is excessive, and where there is a poor class of tenement house ; where the house property is damp, dilapi- dated, and insanitary ; and where there is a high incidence of poverty and a low standard of life. Many factors contribute to these higher rates found amongst those living in the poorer habitations ; but not all are the result of living in these conditions. The poverty which follows the attack of
tuberculosis in the wage-earner may be the cause and not the result of the family living in the poorer low-rented property.
While too low standard houses can harm the health of the occupants, better housing can be bought at too high a price in the health standards of the family if the higher rent can be paid only by sacrificing the purchase of essential food- stuffs.

Inspection of Houses.—Under the Public Health Acts it is the duty of every local authority to arrange for the inspec- tion of the district to detect and abate nuisances. Amongst the nuisances are premises in such a state as to be a nuisance or injurious to health, or so overcrowded as to be dangerous or injurious to the health of the inmates. Under the Housing Acts it is the duty of the authorities to cause inspections to be made from time to time to ascertain whether any dwelling-houses are dangerous or injurious to health. An important part of the duties of the sanitary inspector consists of inspecting houses either on complaint or as a routine. The owner is communicated with about any defect discovered. In default of his doing the work of repair, the local authority under the Public Health Act applies to the magistrates court for an order directing him to execute it ; or under the Housing Acts can do the work itself at the expense of the owner. Some houses, however, are incapable of repair at a reasonable cost. Subject to the right of appeal of the owner, the local authority makes a demolition order in respect of an individual house, or in the case of a group they make a clearance order under which the properties are demolished.

Provision of Houses.—The findings of the Royal Com- mission instigated by Lord Shaftesbury led to the first Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890. Others followed in 1900 and 1903. The Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909 prohibited back-to-back houses.
To a growing extent during this century local authorities have become responsible for providing houses for members of the working classes. Little had been done before the First World War. This war had contributed to the problem in a number of ways. No houses had been built ; houses had deteriorated more rapidly because they were not being maintained properly ; while, too, the cost of construction rose. The shortage was accentuated by the altered average size of the family which resulted, in spite of intense building activity during the decade, in the housing shortage, as assessed on the basis of a house to a family, being even more acute in 1931 than it had been in 1921.

Following the lead of the insurance policy and contributory pensions a policy of subsidy was adopted by the Ministry of Health. Comparatively little use was made of the powers given to local authorities by the Addison Act of 1919, which was conceived on an unsound basis. The Chamberlain Act of 1923 aimed at encouraging provision of houses by private enterprise by payment of a fixed State subsidy. The Wheatley Act of 1924 gave a special stimulus to building by local authorities. By the end of the decade the arrangements for new building were so much advanced that the main objective of the 1930 Housing Act was not the provision of new houses but the abolition of the slums or of property which had had its day ; and that of the 1936 Housing Act, the abatement of overcrowding. Between the two wars 4 million houses were built in England and Wales, i\ million by local authorities, z\ million by private enterprise without State subsidy.

Before the Second World War it was being increasingly recognized that new housing for members of the working classes would have to be provided by local authorities. The same factors as had caused the difficulties in the first war were repeated on an even greater scale in the second, to such an extent that the general shortage is now so acute that all classes look to the local authorities to provide them with accommodation. It must be very many years before the housing state of the country as a whole will reach what by to-day’s standards can be looked on as the relatively satis- factory position of 1939.

E.W Caryl Thomas, 1948