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A Commentary on Property and Inequality: Housing Dynamics in Nineteenth-Century Cities

Richard Rodger*

Department of Social Work, Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, UK

*Corresponding Author:
Richard Rodger
Department of Social Work, Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, UK

Received: 01-Feb-2023, Manuscript No. JSS-23-90322; Editor assigned: 03-Feb-2023, Pre QC No. JSS-23-90322 (PQ); Reviewed: 17-Feb-2023, QC No. JSS-23-90322; Revised: 24-Feb-2023, Manuscript No. JSS-23-90322 (A); Published: 03-Mar-2023, DOI: 10.4172/JSocSci.9.1.004

Citation: Rodger R. A Commentary on Property and Inequality: Housing Dynamics in Nineteenth-Century Cities. RRJ Soc Sci. 2023;9:004.

Copyright: © 2023 Rodger R. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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The central argument of this article is that towns and cities function in such a way that they not only are the locus of social and economic inequalities they themselves perpetuate them. As Adam Smith claimed in the Wealth of Nations (1776) ‘Civil government is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or for those who have some property against those who have none at all.’ Social and political tensions within cities have often been presented in spatial terms as between slums and suburbs. In this article, however, Rodger goes much further to consider the power and authority of property-based interests and how these differed between landlord and tenant, superior and vassal, owner and occupier, and those with interests in moveable and heritable property. He also shows how the power of property varied between men and women, by marital status, and by the resident or absentee status of landlords. These themes are explored through a study of the entire housing stock of 34,000 homes in a single city (Edinburgh) and is based on the annual rental valuation of every residential property in 1861.Rental valuations provide the historical bedrock for an analysis of property ownership and management which together illuminate the internal political economy of the city. This was because, firstly, in terms of the economy, housing constituted almost a fifth of gross domestic fixed capital formation in 1860; secondly, because an annual rental of £10 assumed political significance as a voting qualification (for males); thirdly, rents, land values and capital gains (betterment) dominated the national political agenda for several decades before 1914; fourthly, social reformers pointed to a clear correlation between housing standards, rents, and physical deterioration, with implications for national defence.

During World War I the book-jacket for The Home I Want proclaimed ‘You cannot expect to get an A1 population out of C3 homes’, and a century later the European Conference on Sustainable Cities concluded ‘Housing conditions and environmental problems do not affect the poor and the wealthy equally.’ Nowhere in Britain was this housing inequality more acute than in urban Scotland where the Census in 1911 revealed that 48 per cent of Scots lived in one-or two-roomed properties with severe physical and mental consequences; in England the figure was 7 per cent. Scots paid disproportionately for low amenity accommodation which ultimately contributed to rent strikes and civil unrest. Scots of all social classes experienced a distinctive urban morphology. A single entrance to one Edinburgh tenement block in Gowanloch’s Land in the Old Town was shared by 179 cohabitees. Personal interactions were inevitable. Such pluralities of space incorporated shared responsibilities and rights-negotiated rotas for stair cleaning, the wash-house, and drying ‘green.’ Proximity lubricated gossip and social interaction; it produced an awareness of the personal circumstances of co-habitees not simply in the celebratory life stages-births, deaths and marriages-but in terms of daily personal concerns shared on the common stair. Proximity stoked an awareness of inequalities and perceptions of injustice, whether imagined or real. The verticality of tenement dwelling contrasted with the essentially horizontal grids of terraced housing in English and Welsh towns and cities and, as Melling noted, ‘the history of any important centre is epitomised in the study of its property market. The Economic History Review article illustrates how the affordability index-a composite of earnings and ability to pay–captures the prevailing occupational and socio-spatial inequalities in the city (Tables 1 and 2).

Occupant Number individuals Average  Rent (£) Standardised rental indexb Standard deviation Coefficient of variation
Hawker 102 3.53 21.2 1.68 0.48
Labourer 1,372 3.58 21.5 1.58 0.44
Carter 210 4.45 26.7 2.22 0.5
Policeman 136 5.16 31 2.81 0.54
Porter 390 5.4 32.4 3.01 0.56
Shoemaker 787 5.95 35.7 4.39 0.74
Mason 445 6.26 37.6 4.1 0.65
Tailor 704 7.76 46.6 8.85 1.14
Cabinetmaker 368 8.22 49.3 6.29 0.77
Printer 361 9.88 59.3 12.81 1.31
Clerk 365 14.93 89.6 8.99 0.6
baker 315 15.68 94.1 20.92 1.35
spirit dealer 203 16.52 99.1 8.98 0.55
All occupations 17,230 16.67 100 25.78 1.55
Grocer 277 19.45 116.7 14.24 0.73
Teacher 123 36.82 220.9 42.26 1.15
Clergyman 126 54.92 329.5 29.25 0.53
Accountant 96 56.71 340.2 34.78 0.61
Doctor MD 122 75.17 450.9 34.05 0.45
Lawyer WS 230 84.97 509.7 32.3 0.38
Note:  (a) See Appendix 1 in the original article. From a list of 900 occupations this is a selection of those with 30 or more male occupants’ description of their trade or profession. Though there were over 6,800 women who were identified by the Assessor as the ‘occupier’ fewer than 10% declared an occupation. (b) Standardised rental index relates the average rent (col.2) for each occupation to the overall average rent for all occupations (£16.67) as an index value.

Table 1. Rental hierarchies: An index of affordabilitya.

Owners and landlords Number of dwellings Rental assessment Mean rent Standard deviation
Tenure N % £ % £
1 2 3 4 5 6
All dwellings 26,499 100 441,442 100 16.67 25.78
Femalea 7,679 29 1,29,224 29.3 16.83 26.61
Male 18,820 71 3,12,218 70.7 16.6 25.43
Tenure: Owner occupiers 3,467 13.1 160,000 36.2 46.19 40.82
Female 1,187 34.2 49,328 30.8 41.56 38.31
Male 2,280 65.8 1,10,672 69.2 48.6 41.88
Tenure: Rented landlords 23,032 86.9 281,442 63.8 12.22 19.05
Female 6,492 28.2 79,896 28.4 12.31 20.91
Male 16,540 71.8 2,01,542 71.6 12.19 18.27
Note:  (a) The 29% of all residential properties privately owned by women was made up as follows: married and widowed (61%); unmarried (30%); jointly between 2 or more women (5%) and jointly with a man (5%).

Table 2. Owners and landlords: Tenure, gender and housing 1860.

The extensive data makes for a rich analysis. This is simplified in several tables, figures, and charts. One of the most telling is entitled Rental Hierarchies: An Index of Affordability. This summarises the average rent paid occupations (£16.67) by over 17,000 individuals in 900 distinct and presents this as a hierarchy and the extent of variability in rents within the occupational grouping. There is also a street-by-street profile of 279 streets and their average rentals to illustrate the extent and depth of spatial inequality within the city. A further level of ownership inequality is explored by gender, and this reveals the extent of female ownership, with slightly higher rented properties in the owner occupier category, and lower rentals as landlords than their male counterparts. See Owners and Landlords: Tenure, Gender and Housing 1860 (below) [1-6].