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Real estate record and builders' guide: [v. 99, no. 2549: Articles]: January 20, 1917

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REAL ESTATE AND NEW YORK, JANUARY 20, 1917 PROBLEM OF HOUSING INDUSTRIAL WORKERS Duty of Employer of Labor to Concern Himself About Conditions Under Which Workmen Live By LAWRENCE VEILLER, Secretary National Housing Association PART TWO. very excellent ■ I ' HERE is a very excellent type •*■ of dwelling that is suited to the man of low earning capacity; and that is, the single-fainily dwelling built in rows or groups, what in some parts of the country is known as a "terrace." This type of house is the common type of workin.gman's dwelling, in fact, one may say the universal type, in Great Britain. Where land values are high, where building is costly, and especially where it is necessary to keep down the rent to $15 a month, this is the only type of single-family dwelling in most parts of the country—that can be built and rented at this figure and at the same time return a fair return upon the money invested. One of the great mistakes we have made in attempting to house this type of worker has been to neglect all considera¬ tions of how much land this worker can afford to pay for. In most communities where they have been dividing their property into lots of 25 feet, 40 feet and 50 feet frontage, with depths varying anywhere from 100 to 150 or 200 feet—3. type of subdivision excellent for men of means, and in some cases entirely ap¬ propriate even for the skilled mechanic, but quite inappropriate for the man we are now considering—they have gone on and without thought have assumed that the workingman earning $15 a week should build a house upon property of this type. The workingman of low earning ca¬ pacity can no more afford to pay for more land or more house than he can afford to use than he can afford to pay for more clothes or more food than he can afford to use. The $15 a week man -does not need a house 25 feet wide, nor can he afford it. I realize that there will be considerable dissent from this statement and that to many it will come as a new suggestion and like all new ideas, will be keenly re¬ sented at first. But students of the prob¬ lem are quite agreed on this point, and find that the best type of house for this kind of workingman is a house of about IS or 16 feet frontage, two stories high, built in a row or group; containing not more than five rooms and bath, and, pre¬ ferably, not more than four rooms; with two living rooms on the ground floor and a bath and two or three bedrooms, as the case may be, on the second floor. Such a house is best exemplified in the ordinary commercially built Philadelphia house, built literally by the hundred thousand in that great city, serving as the habitation of over a million people. In speaking of the Philadelphia house, there are two types which should be dis¬ tinguished. What is referred to here is the four-room house, and not the more recent type of development, a house with six rooms, with an extension on the ground floor. It is an axiom in housing that no house is "model" that exceeds two rooms in depth. In fact, in Great Britain a house deeper than this is practically unknown. It could not be rented or sold. How many rooms can the $15 a week man afford to pay for? How many does he want? This raises a host of novel questions, I appreciate. The writer has personally had this question borne in upon him with considerable emphasis recently through the study of the trend of development in the housing of certain portions of the population of one of our large Eastern cities, where the trend toward a smaller number of rooms has been strikingly no¬ ticeable in recent years. Causes for the Trend. In seeking the causes for that trend it has developed that the average work¬ ingman of this type cannot afford to oc¬ cupy more than four rooms and that usu¬ ally when he rents or pays for more than four rooms he does not occupy them all, but supplements his income by taking in lodgers or boarders. It was also discovered that he cannot afford to heat more than four rooms; that his wife, as a rule, especially in these days, with the distractions of moving pic¬ tures and other attractive phases of city life, does not wish to take care of more than four rooms. Finally, the furnish¬ ing or equipment of more than four rooms proves a burden. Of course, in exceptional cases where there are very large families, four rooms are not suffi¬ cient. These, however, are the excep¬ tional cases and not the rule. If one can gauge accurately the pres¬ ent trend of social development, families are likely in the future to continue to grow smaller, and to need fewer rooms. A house of the type we have described can be built complete, with outer walls of brick, with cellar, furnace, running water and all modern improvements, even in some cases including electric light fi.K- tures, and sold, including the land and improvements, such as curbing, paving and grading, for $2,000, and can be rented without difficulty for $15 a month, and yield a commercial return. This is what is done in the city of Philadelphia. It is made feasible there by operating on a wholesale scale and building many houses at once. Intensive Use of Land. It is also made possible through the more intensive use of the land which' the smaller size lot lends itself to. It is thus possible to get a great many more houses on the same area of land than in the case where a larger unit is employed; and, of course, the cost of the smaller house is also considerably less than that of the larger house. This is the type of house which has been developed very successfully in a number of so-called "model" dwelling enterprises. The Schmidlapp houses in Cincinnati, at least the later ones and better ones, are of this type. The houses recently built by the Octavia Hill Association in Philadelphia are of this type, as are also those of the Improved Dwellings Asso¬ ciation in New Haven. Most people when thev hear the su.g- gestion that houses should be built in rows or terraces seem to think that there miistbe a stereotyped monotony to the buildings. This is, of course, quite unnecessary. It depends merely upon the artistic taste, ingenuity and skill of the architect. He can vary his types of architecture just as easily with the row house as he can with the detached house. A happy medium between the two and a plan which lends itself very easily to artistic treatment is the "group" house. That is, the row house broken up into groups of three or five, or seven or nine or eleven, as may be desirable. A treatment which gives variety and ir pleasing to the eye is a skillful varia¬ tion of groups of this kind, having a group of three houses intervene between two groups of five or seven houses, etc. Such a treatment has been worked out for years in the case of the English gar¬ den suburbs and is very well exemplified in Grosvenor Atterbury's treatment of the Forest Hills development of the Sage Foundation, built for a different class of people, however. Where land values are so high that it is not possible to house the workers in single family houses, even of the row or terrace type, such as have just been de¬ scribed, it is still not necessary to re¬ sort to the tenement or "three-decker," for there is another type of house that is infinitely better than either of these. That is the two-family house. This is of two types—the so-called "double house" or semi-detached house, which is noth¬ ing more or less than two single-family dwellings of the cottage type, with light and air on three sides instead of four; one side of each house being a party wall common to the two. This is well exemplified in the very attractive houses constructed a year or two ago in Salem by the Salem Rebuild- mg Trust. It is a splendid type of house for the workingman and even a good type for the skilled mechanic, though as a rule, it is better for him to have a com¬ pletely detached house. The other type of two-family house, sometimes called the "two-flatter," is frankly a multiple dwelling, but of the least objectionable kind, for it is only two stories high and contains but two families, one upstairs and one down, with separate entrances, with separate cellars, and oftentimes with separate back yards. Such a house has few of the objec¬ tionable features of the tenement, for nothing is used in common except the foundations and the roof. Houses of this type are well exemplified by the buildings of the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company, developed by the late General Sternberg. As a rule they are built in rows and should con¬ tain practically the same number of rooms as it would be deemed wise to provide in the single-family dwelling of the terrace type, namely, four rooms and bath, or, at the most, five rooms and bath. Such houses, however, cannot have the great advantage which the Philadelphia house has, of being but two rooms deep. In order to get the necessary number of rooms for each flat it becomes neces¬ sary to build the building deeper, and this means practically a series of courts for the lighting of a certain number of the rooiiis. No housing plan which con¬ tains this feature can be deemed either model or desirable. It is at best a com¬ promise and should be frankly recog¬ nized as such. All that has been said heretofore has had reference to the housing of the man