Christopher Addison, health minister in 1919, led a council housebuilding drive (picture by Alamy)
2019 sees the centenary of the Housing Act 1919 which tasked local authorities to build half a million ‘Homes Fit For Heroes’. On 11 November 1918, World War I came to an end and the following day the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George called a general election and in his manifesto promised a system of treasury grants to cover the housing costs. Following the recommendations of the Tudor Walters report of 1918, local authorities were charged with building “working-class” housing in their areas. Not the terraced back to back houses packed into streets, but good proportioned houses set in gardens. This was a radical departure from the working class houses of that time.
In July 1919, 6 months after the election, the Minister of Health, Christopher Addison, brought the new Housing Act onto the statute books. This marked the beginning of the nation’s system of building council housing that lasted throughout most of the last century. The aim of 500,000 homes fell short of the promise, due to two major issues – the lack of funds; and the extreme shortage in the building industry of skilled manpower and materials. 176,000 houses were actually built – “Homes fit for Heroes” turned out to be more a rally and election promise than a workable pledge. By July 1921 the programme was halted and limited to houses that had already started being contracted or for which tenders had already been approved.