Council housing at lowest point in 30 years

— Editor’s note: Last week we reported on the housing crisis facing the new Lincoln MP, Karl McCartney. This week, we bring you background information on the state of council housing in Lincoln, and how its numbers suddenly rose, yet now are at the lowest point in 30 years.

The majority of Lincoln’s residents are young enough not to have experienced the terrible state of housing at the turn of the century. Overcrowding, vermin problems, queuing for water and sharing a toilet with several other families has become a thing of the past — and so has the squalor, decay and disease, and high infant death rate.

This is due to the growth of council housing in Lincoln, which is mirrored across the nation. Over the last seventy years Local Authorities have become the major providers of rented housing, owning one-third of rented lets in the country.

The birth of council housing

As early as 1911, the issue of Lincoln’s poor state of housing was raised, led by the Dean of Lincoln, T.C. Fry — but the council refused to act. A year later, the city’s Sanitary Inspector published a report calling for more rental properties in Lincoln.

After winning their first ever seat, Labour managed to influence city Chair of Finance, Alderman Hewson, into proposing a scheme of 900 houses on around 67 acres land. This was encouraged by local industrialists and the Local Government Board (LGB), who did not agree with the lack of accommodation available to the poor. At the time only 4,903 of the 13,960 houses in Lincoln were working class houses, with a weekly rent of 5s 6d, the average wage in the foundries.

Central government subsidies introduced

The beginning of the war in 1914 delayed the scheme and changed the direction of social policy. The Housing and Planning Act 1919 introduced central government subsidies for council housing, with local authorities being required to implement house building programmes. Guidance on the design of the houses stated they should be of two stories, with at least three bedrooms, and a through living room to allow in natural light and ventilation.

These plans stressed that it would be false economy to compromise quality for short-term savings, and the advice was to build no more than 12 houses to the acre in towns. There were two housing schemes that originally emerged, the St. Giles Estate and the Swanpool Garden suburb.

Standard of housing high

Public demand resulted in even more homes to be planned for construction. 380 houses were built, 340 of which containing a parlour and three bedrooms.

A 1925 report by the Medical Officer of Health confirmed that the houses were acceptable, stating: “The general housing conditions compared favourably with towns of similar size. Like most ancient boroughs, Lincoln has an appreciable proportion of old houses that fall short of modern requirements, but there is nothing that can be described as a slum.”

By 1939, 2,648 houses had been built, but the second world war posed another setback. When the war ended, pre-fabricated bungalows (pre-fabs) designed to last only ten years were constructed by local and unskilled workers to cope with demand, however, many of them still remain standing today.

Continued growth from ’50s through the ‘80s

A Conservative government raised the targets in the ’50s for the provision of new homes, and gave the job to the local authorities, who built 70 per cent of them. Large new estates like Hartsholme, Boultham Moor, Ermine and Ermine West were built.

The house building peaked in the ‘50s, but the 1960s saw a the birth of the tower block, and there was a huge increase of new homes to the Birchwood estate in the 1970s. A a result the City Council managed 11,034 properties by 1980.

Current legislation

New legislation has taken a step backwards in terms of council housing, such as the introduction of the right to buy in 1980, which allowed tenants to purchase their houses at a substantial discount. This has reduced council-owned homes to 7,858 in 2010. As a result, the task of finding homes for everyone in the City of Lincoln is more difficult, but the Council claims it still believes in the need for council housing.

Source: City of Lincoln Council