Many perspectives – such as ones based on history, political economy, and economics, or a combination of them – are available with regard to housing.
Among these perspectives, original, first-hand accounts from people who’ve actually lived in wartime and postwar housing in the Greater Toronto Area are of interest.
I owe thanks to Douglas Hanlon, who grew up in such housing, for giving rise to my interest in learning more about this topic. He has mentioned to me that he has moved 150 times, in the course of his life. I am very pleased that he has contacted me, through this website.
I seek to share the views of individuals who have actually lived in emergency housing in the late 1940s and early 1950s. I am keen to get a good sense of the inside view, regarding wartime emergency housing.
The general concept, of seeing things from the inside, I have explored in a series of recent posts, such as with regard to the history of modern Tibet. The view from inside Tibet, as distinction from the view from outside of it, is of particular interest to me. As I have noted in a previous post, The Struggle for Tibet (2009) offers a first-rate discussion of the value of an inside view of things.
Keeping to the Marketplace (1993)
By way of academic background regarding the topic at hand, a study by John C. Bacher, entitled Keeping to the Marketplace: The Evolution of Canadian Housing Policy (1993) is of interest. A blurb reads:
Some social housing was developed as a result of the 1949 National Housing Act (NHA) amendments but this program remained marginalized for many years as government policy favoured shelter provision by private entrepreneurs. While the 1973 amendments to the NHA set the stage for a vigorous “comprehensive” housing policy, these measures were short-lived.
In 1978 federal termination of land banking and transfer of financial responsibilities for housing to the provinces encouraged a rapid contraction of the growth of social housing, contributing to mounting homelessness in the 1980s.
Bacher’s analysis is a fundamental departure from explanations of the policies of the Canadian federal state by both liberal and Marxist scholars.
While accepting their notion of the “hegemonic” role of the ideologically rigid Department of Finance, he stresses that such orthodoxy was not shared throughout influential sections of the Canadian civil service. Many critical policy shapers chafed under the department’s narrow constraints and were instrumental in effecting policy changes which enabled more socially responsive housing programs to develop.
Unplanned Suburbs (1996)
Among the books that I’m reading, as part of my current blogging project, is Unplanned Suburbs: Toronto’s American Tragedy, 1900 to 1950 (1996) by Richard Harris.
A blurb for the latter study reads:
This work looks at the social history of Toronto, showing that its pre-1939 suburbs were socially and ethnically diverse, with a large number of lower-income North American families making their homes on the urban fringe. It looks at the decentralization of blue-collar employment as a reason for working-class families leaving the city.
Although there were advantages – a home of one’s own, a garden, access to the countryside – the unplanned suburban developments led to increases in the costs of needed services. The author shows that, even by the 1920s, many families had fallen into arrears and lost their homes as a result of rising property taxes – a trend that deepened with the onset of the Great Depression. The text concludes that even a minimal amount of planning might have helped retain the advantages of owner-built housing while reducing public costs.
Logic of suburbia and future of sprawl: 2005 interview with Richard Harris
Click here for an October 2005 interview with Richard Harris, geography professor at McMaster University, regarding “the logic of suburbia and the future of sprawl.”
In a separate post, I’ve written about a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to postwar housing in St-Laurent, Quebec. I have not read much of the 1996 Richard Harris text, referred to above, at the time of this writing. However, my sense is that the planning in the case of St-Laurent may have been better than was the planning in Toronto during the period Harris describes. I will know more, when I read the 1996 study.
A couple of other books are of relevance:
The Emergence of Social Security in Canada (1997)
A blurb reads:
This book analyzes the major influences shaping the Canadian welfare state. A central trend in Canadian social security over most of the twentieth century has been a shift from a ‘residual’ to an ‘institutional’ concept. The residual approach, which dominated until the Second World War, posited that the causes of poverty and joblessness were to be found within individuals and were best remedied by personal initiative and reliance on the private market.
However, the dramatic changes brought about by the Great Depression and the Second World War resulted in the rise of an institutional approach to social security. Poverty and joblessness began to be viewed as the results of systemic failure, and the public began to demand that governments take action to establish front-rank institutions guaranteeing a level of protection against the common risks to livelihood. Thus, the foundations of the Canadian welfare state were established. The Emergence of Social Security in Canada is both an important historical resource and an engrossing tale in its own right, and it will be of great interest to anyone concerned about Canadian social policy.
Social Policy and Practice in Canada: A History (2006)
A blurb reads:
Social Policy and Practice in Canada: A History traces the history of social policy in Canada from the period of First Nations’ control to the present day, exploring the various ways in which residents of the area known today as Canada have organized themselves to deal with (or to ignore) the needs of the ill, the poor, the elderly, and the young.
This book is the first synthesis on social policy in Canada to provide a critical perspective on the evolution of social policy in the country. While earlier work has treated each new social program as a major advance, and reacted with shock to neoliberalism’s attack on social programs, Alvin Finkel demonstrates that right-wing and left-wing forces have always battled to shape social policy in Canada. He argues that the notion of a welfare state consensus in the period after 1945 is misleading, and that the social programs developed before the neoliberal counteroffensive were far less radical than they are sometimes depicted.
Social Policy and Practice in Canada: A History begins by exploring the non-state mechanisms employed by First Nations to insure the well-being of their members. It then deals with the role of the Church in New France and of voluntary organizations in British North America in helping the unfortunate. After examining why voluntary organizations gradually gave way to state-controlled programs, the book assesses the evolution of social policy in Canada in a variety of areas, including health care, treatment of the elderly, child care, housing, and poverty.