• T2057, courtesy of Auckland Libraries Heritage Collection. First tenants installed in Devonport state house on 24 September 1938.
Tags: History

Substandard housing on the North Shore in the late 1930s


Under the Housing Survey Act of October 1935, boroughs and some other local authorities were required to survey their local housing in preparation for a New Zealand-wide housing scheme.

In Devonport Borough, being at the time the largest local authority by population on the North Shore, eight inspectors carried out 2,816 inspections with the results presented in a 11 August 1937 summary report. No less than 31.23% of those dwellings were deemed to be unsatisfactory, but around half of those required only minor repairs or renovations. As well as 1,971 private homes, Devonport Borough also had 287 apartment houses (making up 732 dwelling units), 72 boarding houses and two lodging houses with another 47 combined.
Only 15 private houses were deemed to be totally unfit, along with two apartment houses and one other dwelling. 417 private houses were deemed to be unsatisfactory but repairable, along with 249 of the 287 apartment houses and 58 of the 72 boarding houses, along with twenty others. Overcrowding affected 134 people, and of particular concern were houses on Calliope, Vauxhall and Wairoa Roads. The first state house in Devonport was opened 24 September 1938 and across New Zealand State Advances provided around half the funding for all private housing in that period.
Northcote Borough, which had initially resisted being included in the survey, had a total of 636 houses. Two inspectors completely surveyed 132 houses and superficially checked another 250. The summary survey was dated 22 October 1937 and presented to the Northcote Borough Council. The full survey details are preserved at Council Archives.
While 57 houses were found to be satisfactory, according to the government’s criteria, 33 were found to be overcrowded while another 75 were below standard. Some of those below standard lacked conveniences including a bathroom or a bath. Twenty-four required major repairs, sixteen minor repairs and repairs for five houses were deemed impracticable. It was also noted that some houses on Sulphur Beach had been built too close to the ground and were damp.
Six houses required immediate attention; one on Hillcrest Avenue, one on Queen Street in central Northcote, two on Onewa Road, one on Raleigh Road and one on Lake Road. These included both a Maori and a Chinese household. However, while some three or four buildings were demolished following the 1937 survey, as of 1940 four of those requiring immediate attention remained.
Unfortunately, neither the summaries nor the original survey reports are still available for either Birkenhead or Takapuna Boroughs, but newspaper reports do provide some details. In Birkenhead only 203 out of a total 835 houses across the Borough were inspected, with 41 deemed overcrowded, 135 were below standard and eight were totally unfit for habitation.
On the other hand, in Takapuna Borough there were 2258 houses with 1218 dwellings deemed to be below standard. No less than 4,038 of a total 7,200 Takapuna residents were living in such housing, and 3% of the population of Takapuna (219 people) lacked adequate sleeping accommodation. Ten houses were deemed to be unfit for habitation and designated for demolition, these included seven shacks without any conveniences. There were also 153 apartments below standard, two boarding houses, one lodging house and 24 combined dwellings. Note was also made of the lack of sewerage in the area to the north-west and west of Lake Pupuke, with a lack of sinks, toilets and baths in many houses. Sewerage wasn’t available in other parts of the Borough as well.
The Northcote Borough Council believed up to fifty state houses were required for their area, but as of November 1940 there had been only five built, in the Bruce Road area. At that time, Devonport had 55 state houses, with another 35 under construction, Takapuna had 66 while Birkenhead had none at all. Across New Zealand in 1940 and 1941 state housing was around 40% of all new houses built.

By David Verran

Issue 109 May 2020