If at first you don’t succeed … Housing for the working poor

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The squalor of the houses in the central core of St. John’s would only grow worse. The 700 or so houses designated as “unfit for human habitation” could not be demolished until replacement housing was available for the tenants. Unable to build houses itself, the City Council encouraged businesses to build housing for their employees. It was determined that the maximum a labourer could afford to pay for rent was $39.00 a year, or $0.75 a week. Most businesses believed that building company housing would be too expensive. Only a few companies built housing for their employees.

A change to the Municipal Act in 1917 allowed Council to use its funds to build housing for the working poor. The intent was to build affordable housing. The houses would cost $800, a buyer would have to pay $200 in cash up front, and pay the balance within 20 to 30 years.

By 1919 when construction began on Quidi Vidi Road, the price of the planned houses had risen to $2000. A $500 down payment would now be required and the balance would have to be paid within 10 years. In addition, the owners would have to pay a $20 per year ground rent on the land. The high cost of materials and labour further increased the cost of the 22 houses that were built, placing the houses out of a price range that ordinary workers could afford.

At the same time, a business enterprise supported by the government, a labour union and the Roman Catholic Church planned to build 600 houses for returning war veterans and the working poor in the Merrymeeting Road area, north of the city.  The consortium expected to be able to build houses for $1500.  The cost of materials and labour doubled the estimated price and only 30 houses were built.

The first attempts to build affordable houses intended to replace the tenements of the central core were not successful. “Success” would have to wait until the end of the Second World War.

Meanwhile, some residents took matters into their own hands, and began to build houses for their families. These houses, located on the outskirts of the city where water and sewerage connections were not available, were usually small bungalows built room by room as lumber was painstakingly acquired. Urban planners described this kind of housing as “shack development”, and it was considered to be part of the problem of sub-standard housing in the city.

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3 Responses to If at first you don’t succeed … Housing for the working poor

  1. David O'Brien says:

    PS for those photos to be sent to me (David O’Brien) my email is davidobrien4business@gmail.com

  2. David O'Brien says:

    I lived in Ebsary Estates (The Blocks) 1960-68 at 8 Westmount Ave -one of those grey cinderblock buildings that they eventually tore down. I cannot find any pictures online of them – if you have any or anyone does please send them along – many thanks

  3. Stephen pittman says:

    I live on Cashin ave and have so almost my whole live almost 30 years and I can’t find any old pictures of this neighborhood when ebsary estates was here if u had any could u possibly email me some thanks. S_pittman83@hotmail.com

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