The chief defects to be found in the housing conditions that prevail throughout all parts of America - not merely in the East but in the Middle West, in the far West, in the South, in the North; in the great centers of population like New York and Chicago, in cities of more moderate size, even in the small towns and villages - may be summed up as follows:
Dark rooms; sometimes interior rooms without any means of light or ventilation whatsoever; insufficient open spaces; small narrow rear yards, courts and side yards that often are little better than pockets, which do not permit free circulation of air and are grossly inadequate in supplying the light necessary for the windows which open upon them.
1 Regional Survey of New York and Its Environs, VI, 203.
In the modern science of ventilation moving air is the essential thing, along with absence of high temperature and too great moisture. Our houses are not so built, most of them, as to procure moving air, especially in the hot summer months. This is due to the fact that they have not been planned with reference to this purpose, and do not permit what is technically known as "cross," or "thorough," ventilation. This is only beginning to be considered in new construction in this country.
Many houses are built entirely of wood, that is private dwellings, two-family dwellings and some multiple dwellings. Very few houses in which people live are built of fire-resistive construction. Only the homes of the millionaires or the great tall skyscraper apartments are thus built at the present time. The average private dwelling is built of wood, the average multiple dwelling is generally built of brick, in its outer walls, but the whole interior is generally of wooden construction; wooden beams and supporting members, wooden partitions and wooden stairs and halls - all of which make such buildings a great menace in the event of fire. Many such buildings are not provided with adequate means of egress in case of fire, nor with adequate fire escapes. This is particularly so in the great cities.
Comparatively few of them have had the benefit of the advice of an architect in their design. Most of them have been built by speculative builders, seeking their own profit and with little knowledge of sound principles of home planning.
It is the exception rather than the rule where homes are planned with regard to the functions that are to be performed in them - notably so with reference to the kitchens, or places in which the housewife spends most of her time; what has been very aptly described as the "housewife's workshop."
Little or no thought has been given to the work that is to be done by the housewife, so as to save her unnecessary steps, although there are 26,000,-000 housewives in the United States - no small element of the population and one well worthy of consideration in planning their workshops. A careful study made recently by Government officials of typical groups of over 2,000 housewives disclosed the fact that one-third of the housewives spend 56 hours of the week or more in their homemaking, a half of them spend between 42 hours and 56 hours at these tasks, and the average about 51 hours a week, which is the equivalent of a full workingman's week spent at his labor.
That much could be done in planning kitchens scientifically is disclosed by the fact that the average housewife in doing her housework walks six miles a day. When kitchens are scientifically arranged, it has been found that that amount has been reduced to but four miles a day. In the light of these facts the intelligent and scientific planning of kitchens assumes new significance. There is a change, however, coming, and in future our homes will be more intelligently planned.
Houses are not only badly planned but as a rule they are badly built: This is due to the system of building houses on speculation, instead of having the person who is to live in the house build the house for his own use. Where that happens the houses are generally well built. But that is the exception and not the rule. The great mass of houses in America, especially the homes of working people, are built by speculative builders who seek to make a quick profit. Consequently, there is an incentive to slight the work, to build cheaply, to substitute inferior materials, and no incentive to good workmanship. They have little or no concern whether the house lasts a long time or soon needs repairs, for they will have sold the house long before that time and will have no concern with it. The more they can "skin" it, as the phrase goes, the more profit for them. As a result, the great mass of our houses in America are badly built. Many need repainting and repairs within a few months after the family has moved in. The plumbing wears out quickly, everything has to be renewed much sooner than it should; so that this kind of building is a very distinct discouragement to investment in a home on the part of the average man. This is undoubtedly one of the factors in the great increase in the number of rented homes in the United States in recent years.
The cost of building in the United States is very high.....1 The cost of the average small home in the United States has risen 19 per cent during the past six years and is still climbing. The chief reason for this is in the high wages paid to labor in the building industry and in the manufacture of materials that enter into a building. One observer commenting on this said recently:
The cost of housing through public indifference and timidities of politicians has been permitted to mount out of all proportion to other items in the cost of living. A thousand dollars' worth of automobile or of many other articles to-day means more than twenty years ago, while a thousand dollars' worth of building construction means considerably less.
1 For further information on costs, see chap. ii.