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Workers' houses - Expo Paris 1867

Workers' houses at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

Never before had a huge park been annexed to an exhibition: never before, therefore, had the typical buildings of different countries been brought together around the exhibits. Among the buildings in the Parc du Champ de Mars, the most remarkable are certainly the workers' houses.

It will be the glory of the Universal Exhibition of 1867 to have left a deep trace of what is the main concern of this century, the fate of the working classes.

To make work accessible to property, either by saving or by the association of forces, such is the solicitude which dominates, nowadays, in all spheres of society. To place property before the worker as the attainable goal of his efforts, is it not to reopen before his eyes the field of hope and to suggest to him, through the feeling of fruitful saving, the ideas of conciliation?

Group X sums up all the concerns and solicitudes of our generation. Workers' housing is its domain; it is the last link in the chain of the Alps that we call manual labour. The Park is rich in workers' houses, just as the machine ship is rich in small trades. From the tent of the nomads to the house of the American settler, from the 700-fr. hut of the worker of the Belgian Campine, of which our dear colleague of class 91, Mr. Jacquemyns, deputy of Ghent, has raised the model, to the 21,000-fr. house of the workers of Paris, all the specimens of economic housing are represented at the Champ de Mars.

My illustrious friend, Jules Simon, has already told us about the 3,000-fr. house built by the Parisian Cooperative Society. After what he said about it, we have nothing more to say about it. Various other contributors have told us about the Belgian house, the Bohemian house, the American house and the miners' house in Blanzy. It remains for us to speak about the workers' house in Paris and the house in Mulhouse, which our drawing has brought together.

It would be too absolute to say that the worker must expect his redemption only from his own efforts, and that what is done for him will never be worth what he does himself. Doctrinally, this is true: in practice, this overly absolute doctrine often comes up against an impossibility.

To a co-operative society it is already very difficult to find the money necessary to buy in common the food to be consumed, or the raw materials to be worked. But by what providential means will housing societies procure, from the outset, the land intended for their joint construction? In the large urban agglomerations where workers' association is only possible, land is very expensive and inaccessible to the most patient and devoted collective savings.

The houses in Mulhouse are not the product of a cooperative society. Generous capitalists have formed a relatively considerable capital, increased by some imperial endowments, to buy building land. They have limited the interest on their contribution to 4%, abandoning the ex-works. They limited the interest on their contribution to 4%, leaving the former profit to the common work.

The land having been acquired by the capital thus formed, 800 houses were built: the average sale was 60 houses per year. The workers thus bought 700 of the 800 houses.

The construction system adopted by the Mulhouse Company was to combine four houses, each with a small front garden, into a single group. The space occupied by the group is 180 metres, including the garden. The purchase price of the land and the construction represents 13,200 francs, or 3,300 per house. A worker becomes the owner of one of these houses by paying one tenth of the price, i.e. 330 francs, and a rent representing 5 per cent of the capital of the house, including depreciation.

Since the beginning of the institution, 700 heads of working-class families have become buyers.

Since the houses built were near the factories which paid the workers' wages, it was possible to use the hot water which came out of these factories to form pools and wash houses, the use of which is almost free, a great advantage which the workers' houses will not find in a less favourable environment.

Eight hundred houses built in an industrial district have had the consequence of increasing the price of land to the benefit of the first occupants, so that today's buyers will find themselves in possession of a building which in ten years' time will be worth three times the price they paid for it.

The house in Mulhouse is built on a cellar, with a ground floor, a first floor and an attic. The foundations are solid enough to support a second floor.

The price of the group of houses in Mulhouse, over 180 metres, is 13,200 francs, as we said. But it is understandable that what was possible in Mulhouse is not possible in Paris, because of the high price of land. Also, the workers in Paris, in the specimen shown in our drawing, had to cram six families into their group, established over 104 metres only, and with a second floor superimposed; and the price amounts to 21,000 francs.

In Mulhouse, the worker's house has on the ground floor a wide corridor leading to the staircase to the upper floor and a large bedroom. The first floor consists of two very adequate rooms. We have said that below is the cellar, above the attic.

In the Paris house, the construction system is different. The ground floor consists of two shops, which can be used as workshops, and are separated by a central staircase leading to the first and second floors.

Each of these shops, with a small room adjoining it that can be used as a kitchen, forms a separate dwelling. Above, the shop is replaced by two rooms, which completes the six dwellings we have mentioned for the two floors and for the two bodies separated by the central staircase.

The fact that the worker in Paris, with less comfort and pleasure, pays 3500 francs what the worker in Mulhouse pays only 3300, can be explained by the enormous difference in the value of the land.

At the price of land in Paris, can you imagine the enormous capital that a workers' association would need to acquire the site necessary for 700 housing units? Even if the workers of Paris were to find, as the workers of Mulhouse did, complacent capital that would advance the land, the future of the association would succumb before such a heavy burden.

The conclusion of all this would be that cooperative housing societies are impossible, precisely where they would be most useful. But if one removes the question of land purchase, everything becomes easy.

In Edinburgh, the question of co-operative housing societies was solved by the munificence of the City, which gave up vacant land around the city to the associated workers to build on their own account.

The Emperor did in Paris precisely what the City of Edinburgh had done in Scotland.

He gave up to a company of workers the * land belonging to him in the Avenue Daumesnil, on the condition that they erect workers' buildings there.

Following the precedents, this is what should be done. Each house built at common expense, by means of equal contributions, would be attributed, by lot, to one of the co-operators, who, free of all subsequent contributions, would pay the interest and depreciation of the house attributed to him. The amount of these rents would be returned as a dividend to the cooperators whom fate has not favoured, and would compensate for their misfortune.

There is a combination here that our workers will find a way to make fruitful.

What the Emperor did in Paris, the municipalities of the departments could do, following the example of the city of Edinburgh.

The preoccupation of our time, as the Exhibition has proved, is obviously on the side of the improvement of the workers. To have a shelter is the dream of every honest worker: it is the most tempting access to property for him.

After what has been done, I have indicated what could be done. The question is open, unresolved.

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée