The Railway Company
Providing railway workers with housing was one of the most important state investments of the beginning of the century also because it responded to the numerous strikes and threats of supporters of socialism and communism. Implicitly, the project was tied in with the powerful disputation of the national-liberal state.
Initially, the government implemented the housing policies through the Municipal Company for Low-Cost Housing, which developed the Grant and Steaua lotissements, between 1912 and 1916. After the Great War, in 1920, the C.F.R. set up its own department, called the C.F.R. Labor House, which was subordinated to the General Directorate of the C.F.R and had its separate budget, legal entity and independent administration, and took over the housing projects from the Municipal Society. According to Cincinat Sfințescu, the C.F.R. Labor House began the construction of houses in 1921, by commissioning various contractors which completed, in 1921-1922, 74 apartments in Bucharest and 1923-1924 another 128 apartments and three bathhouses. “This department intended to build private housing for the CFR workforce on plotted land, as it had done near the North Railway Station in 1923 and 1924. Here, with a low-interest rate (5%) loans, civil servants were able to own private houses, in fact very comfortable villas”.
The C.F.R. established the Labor House as a response to the increasing popularity of communist ideas among railway workers (Ceferiști), perceived as a threat by the national-liberal elite. This reasoning owes both to the international phenomena of socialism and national concerns. In an article in the Encyclopaedia of Romania in the late 1930s, the authors argued that if the state intervened, the Ceferiști should be “protected” from communist ideology. The authors of the article proposed that the solution for the workers’ unrest was “the organisation, for the benefit of the CFR employees, of a vast assistance network that would ensure better living conditions, so that they can perform the work and sacrifices required from them better”. The authors pointed out such measures could counteract the spread of communism:
“The railway personnel, tired by the heroic work during the war, decimated by diseases, frayed by shortcomings and by the increasing difficulties of subsistence, were demoralised. Such situation poses a grave danger because the social movements and, in particular, the anarchic thought that had begun to reach us used this state of mind to sow the seeds for all sorts of unrests[…]”. The same authors suggested that “all these considerations encouraged the search for new ways to improve the status of railway employees, without, however, increasing their salaries. On the one hand, the country’s financial situation did not allow for such a measure, and on the other, the problem was much larger in scope and should not be regarded as a strictly material resolution”.
Improving the accommodations for the Ceferiști was, until 1945, one of the most important state strategies and a critical indicator of the disagreements between the national-liberal state and the Ceferiști. The C.F.R. Labor House designed the Inginerilor lotissement (1923-1929), near Gara de Nord, which was their most controversial project, and the Viilor lotissement (1927-1929). Also, the C.F.R. initiated a lotissement in the Chitila suburb and pursued apartment projects in collective housings. These also included the apartment buildings near Gara de Est and Gara de Sud, the ones on Petru Poni Street, Icoanei Street and Calea Griviței, which were all, however, insufficient to meet the housing demand.
In April 1945, the Petru Groza government initiated works in Bucharest (bombed in 1944), by restoring the Grivița district (including the Steaua lotissement). New apartment buildings were erected between the Feroviarilor and Lainici streets.