Ernie Gaudin interview
Housing the people of any community is perhaps the most onerous job in Government. Like painting Sydney Harbour Bridge, it is a job that never seems to end.
The man who has taken on this responsibility and borne it for a number of years is Senator Ernest Gaudin. He has been a States member now for 18 years, 15 of these on the Housing Committee, 12 as president.
He has a very basic view towards the problem of housing which is a view that is unshakeable after all the years of dealing with providing houses.
- "Every islander has the right to live in a decent home in decent surroundings. It is the job of the Government to help him make this possible."
The key words in this sentence are "to help him". Senator Gaudin does not believe that people should be featherbedded. This is why he is such an ardent supporter of the States loan system.
"Since the loan scheme started in 1950, over 1,800 homes have been built through it. When you consider that there are about 21,000 households in Jersey, this is a pretty remarkable achievement."
The States Loan works on a system of lending money (up to £4,000) at 6½ per cent. The States can lend up to 95 per cent of the value of a property and repayments are geared to income, so that it is never costing more than one-fifth of a man's income to buy his own house. Loans can be stretched over 35 years to make this possible.
It is difficult today for people to remember back to the slum curses that ravaged the good name of Jersey. Only 15 years ago St Peter's Barracks, La Hayle Camp, the Married Quarters in Green Street, were still leftovers from the German Occupation. People lived in appalling conditions.
Energetic action has rid the island of these slums and replaced them with modern buildings, and many people who lived in abject conditions now enjoy a good roof above their heads.
- "There is a completely different attitude towards housing today in the States", said Senator Gaudin. "I think my Committee has won a major battle in making the House aware of the need for people to live decently and we are doing all that we can to cut down our housing list.
- "Despite our efforts, we must still build houses at the rate of 150 a year for the next five years. This programme is going to take up to 25 vergees of land a year, and this is going to be very difficult to find. But find it we must. And we will."
The Housing Committee have also been extremely energetic over slum clearance in St Helier.
- "We have often been criticised for our policy on slum clearance, and the cost of rebuilding. But slum clearance is most expensive. By the time properties have been purchased for demolition, then demolished and rebuilt the cost is astronomic".
Could private enterprise do it?
- "Yes, of course, but rents would start at about £10 a week. Unlike the States, private enterprise likes to see a return on its capital. Would that be helping to solve our problem? If we were to charge an economic rent for slum clearance redeveloped properties people just wouldn't be able to afford to live in them. They have to be subsidised.”
His committee have a very fair system of evaluating rents based on income. They committee starts by charging the maximum but then allows tenants to make a case for a rent reduction.
- "You can call it a means test if you like, but it is a fair way of ensuring that people pay what they can afford."
The Housing Committee have, in the past, been caught between the crossfire of island development and the need to attract wealthier residents to Jersey. They have instituted controls over people coming into the island by a rigid clamp on the sale of property at exorbitant prices. I asked him if he thought this was an interference with the basic liberty of an individual to buy and sell his property as he wished.
- "Yes, it is an interference, in the same way as planning permission is an interference with a person's right to do what he likes with a piece of land he owns. But these controls are essential. What we set out to do was to stop the prices of properties in the £6,000 to £12,000 price range from rocketing. I think we have had some measure of success in this. We are not very concerned with properties in the £40,000 bracket because these are sold specifically to wealthy people settling here. Any person wanting to retire to the island who is looking for a £12,000 house is not going to do a great deal for our economy."
Senator Gaudin, when not a politician, is an energetic grower and partner in a successful watch business in St Helier. He makes no secret of the fact that he dislikes speaking in public and admits that he seldom sets the Assembly alive with oratory like some of his more gifted colleagues.
Man of dedication
But when he talks of the aims of his committee and their imaginative plans for the redevelopment of Ann Street, and the Windsor Road project, you know you are speaking to a man of dedication.
Though the housing list may not be any shorter than it was 15 years ago, it is by no means as pressing.
- "Anyone on the list who is in urgent and desperate need doesn't have to wait long today before we can do something for him. 15 years ago there were so many people in desperate straits that it was almost impossible for us to do anything."
Senator Gaudin thanks his Committee for much of this.
- "I have had wonderful backing from them. They are an extremely able body of men who have given drive and purpose to our efforts," he said.
Soon Senator Gaudin will be standing for re-election.
- ”There is no doubt at all about my political future. If the electorate want me I shall be back in the States for a further term. I feel there is still a lot of work on housing unfinished, and I would like to see it completed.
- ”Housing is not a simple proposition. The human factor must always be taken into consideration. We are dealing with people and their problems all the time.”