In the second half of the nineteenth century, European cities faced a problem well known in postindependence India: the population escalated due to immigration from the rural areas causing rapid and considerable housing shortage. This forced large parts of the poorer classes into miserable living conditions. Lack of space, money and hygiene facilitated the epidemic spread of diseases such as tuberculosis and diarrhoea. The town authorities were called upon to stop speculation and to launch state financed housing projects. However, in reality the situation was very different depending on the place, political aims and financial possibilities arising out of the particular crisis. This article discusses the issue in two continental European cities of around 100,000 inhabitants. The Swiss town of Basel was a hub of trade in Central Europe, while Belgrade was the capital of the Southeastern European kingdom of Serbia.