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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Remembering the legacy of our housing profession

08/12/2016


CIH director for Ireland Nicola McCrudden marks CIH's centenary day, the birthday of Octavia Hill, looking back over more than 100 years of housing.

2016 has been a year of reflection for Ireland and the UK – 100 years ago we were in a very different place. It was a time of war, uprising, strict class division and extreme poverty. This year the Chartered Institute of Housing celebrates its centenary. The history of housing management was sparked by the work of pioneers of social reform opposed to appalling housing conditions in the second half of the 19th century.

At that time Dublin had the worst housing conditions in Europe. Its extensive slums were not limited to the back-streets or to impoverished ghettos, but had moved into great Georgian houses on previously fashionable streets and squares. Tenements were filthy, overcrowded, disease-ridden, teeming with malnourished children and very much at odds with the elite world of colonial and middle-class Dublin.

Housing in Ireland and the housing profession has come a long way in 100 years. Pictured L-R John O'Connor - Housing Agency, Nicola McCrudden - CIH, Catherine Kelly - Cork City Council, Professor Paddy Gray

The Chartered Institute of Housing can trace its roots back to 1916 when the first professional body for housing, the Association for Women Housing Workers, was founded. We owe our beginnings to a most formidable character – Octavia Hill.

Octavia was an extraordinary woman. Born in 1838, she was part of a band of workers who laboured among the poor in London and it was clear from the outset that her mission was about much more than bricks and mortar.

“You cannot deal with the people and their houses separately” she said, and her vision was to make ‘lives noble, homes happy and family life good’. It would be difficult to find a housing provider who doesn’t have a version of this as their mission statement today.

Octavia believed as long as housing was in the hands of landlords motivated only by rental income, it was not possible to make sure families were able to live in clean, comfortable and decent homes.

It was she who first conceived the idea of buying squalid homes, collecting weekly rents and transforming the buildings and the people living in them. She encouraged tenants to keep their houses in good condition and set aside an amount every year for repairs; the surplus was used for improvements decided upon by the tenants themselves.

Her influence and her model for housing grew, with new accommodation and principles including the turning of wasteland into playgrounds and the creation of clubs for tenants. In return she was very strict and her assistants, the front runners for today’s housing officers, checked the properties on their visits to collect rent.

It matters that we remember our profession started with these pioneering women. I find them truly inspirational particularly when we note that Octavia died in 1912 – six years before women were allowed to vote.

In today’s challenging housing landscape it is vital that we have a qualified and skilled housing workforce, providing more than bricks and mortar. People who work in housing have a hugely important role to play in Rebuilding Ireland and we at CIH look forward to supporting them.

Learners receive their CIH certificate for the housing profession in Dublin


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