Landlordism in Towns
From The Workers’ Republic, 18 November 1899.
Reprinted in Red Banner, No.18.
Transcribed by Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
In an early issue of the Workers’ Republic we pointed out that the Corporation of Dublin had it in its power to sensibly mitigate the sufferings of the industrial population in the City by a wise and intelligent application of its many powers as a public board. Among the various directions we enumerated as immediately practical outlets for corporate enterprise, there were two allied measures which, were they applied, might do much to at once relieve the most odious and directly pressing evils arising from the congested state of our cities. Those two measures were:–
- Taxation of unlet houses,
- Erection at public expense of Artisans’ Dwellings, to be let at a rent covering cost of construction and maintenance alone. 
The wisdom of the proposal to increase the funds and utilise the borrowing powers of the Corporation in this manner cannot be questioned. The housing accommodation of the Dublin workers is a disgrace to the City; high rents and vile sanitary arrangements are the rule, and no one in the Corporation seems to possess courage enough to avow the truth, or to face the storm of obloquy which would be directed upon the head of the councillor who would take the opportunity to expose on the floor of the City Hall the manner in which the interests of house landlords are protected, and the spirit of sanitative legislation set at naught.
The so-called philanthropic companies which profess to cater to the needs of the workers by providing cottages, etc., in reality charge higher rents than do most individual house owners elsewhere. We all remember how the owners of the Coombe area property attempted to raise the rents on their cottages, because they were compelled to undertake the construction of some necessary drainage, which they culpably neglected to supply when their property was being built. Now the Dublin and Suburban Artisans’ Dwellings Company have in like manner initiated an attempt to raise the rents on their Cork Street buildings by another sixpence a week, in spite of the fact that the property has lately been allowed to get into a most dilapidated condition – roofs leaking, footpaths all broken up, roadways full of holes and pitfalls, and lamps never lit in the darkest nights of the year.
We are glad to record that this attempt at extortion is being met by the tenants in a most spirited fashion, and that it is likely to prove successful. Councillor Cox has also stood by the tenants in this matter, and has used his position on the Corporation to stop the rebate of taxes which this company usually obtains on the score of its philanthropic character.
This action of our friend, Councillor Cox, shows how much influence for good can be exerted by our representatives when imbued with the proper spirit. What a Socialist Republican could do in the way of remedying grievances, and pushing forward measures for the benefit of the workers, can be easily surmised by those who have observed the keen grasp of public questions which at all times distinguishes the Socialist above his fellows.
But, lacking the measures spoken of at the beginning of this article, all other measures must be only of a partially remedial character. Each proposal bears the stamp of a truly practical measure; each can stand the test of rigid economic analysis, and may be put into operation whenever the working class democracy are enlightened enough to demand it.
The taxation of unlet houses would compel the owners of property to accept rents much lower than they now demand, in order to avoid the disagreeable necessity of paying taxes upon unremunerative property. But the erection of houses to be let at cost of construction and maintenance would place in competition with the speculative house landlord, dwellings which, not needing to yield a dividend, could easily beat down his rents to a point more within the compass of the working man’s purse. One point more needs to be noted. It is that a large proportion of the houses in Dublin are owned by persons too poor to keep them in a habitable state. When this is the case such houses should be taken over by the Corporation and made habitable at public expense, or where this would be too costly, razed to the ground. The owners could be compensated according to the condition of their property when taken out of their hands.
It must be remembered, however, that all those measures are merely tentative. Our cities can never be made really habitable or worthy of an enlightened people while the habitations of its citizens remain the property of private individuals. To permanently remedy the evils of city life the citizens must own their city.
1. In Home Thrusts in the October 8 1898 Workers’ Republic Connolly wrote: “The Corporation can provide dwellings for the working people at a rent to cover the cost of construction and maintenance alone, and can procure money for the purpose by a stiff tax on unoccupied houses.”
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