Housing the Masses

Housing the Masses

Housing the Masses

Housing the Masses

Excerpt

Housing as a problem of human welfare is as old as the human race itself. Although we have little idea of the manner of construction which was employed by the primitive races of the world, we are not wholly ignorant of the fact that from time to time the housing of the lower economic classes claimed the attention of the rulers. In this connection we might recall that Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions dating as far back as 4000 B.C. record a sit-down strike of the workers who participated in the building of the pyramids. The result was the first attempt to construct a model town in exchange for a waterproof tomb so essential to the health of the immortal souls of the Pharaohs.

Thucydides, the Greek writer, tells us that in the fourth century B.C. there was considerable concern with housing in Athens. The Spartans were slum dwellers par excellence. The rulers of Athens, however, met the problem of housing by passing many wise and drastic laws which set up standards of safety and sanitation under housing inspectors who had full power to demolish undesirable dwellings.

During the development of the great Byzantine Empire, a great deal was done to improve the sanitation of homes, and bathing as a sanitary and religious requirement assumed great importance. Indeed, there were more private baths in Constantinople about the middle of the eighth century A.D. than there were in New York and Boston combined in the middle of the nineteenth century.

In the United States the problem of protecting city dwellers in matters of housing evidently arose as far back as the earliest colonial times. Thus we find a New Amsterdam ordinance dated 1647 which attempted to reduce the hazard from fire, and another in 1657 forbidding the throwing of rubbish into the street and ordering that it be carted away. Subsequent early legislation dealt with sewers, water supply, and other regulations intended to protect health. If we may judge from early documents, the enforcement of these regulations was not very effective. That conditions went from bad to worse is evident from the many reports of health officers and the persistent changes and improvements in the laws regulating housing and requiring cleanliness. All these early regulations applied to New York City. It goes without saying that the whole problem of housing was dealt with as a matter of tenant-owner relationship and was not concerned with the more fundamental and far-reaching . . .

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