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New Stepping Stones for American Homes

by Loula D. Hasker

Associate Editor, Survey Graphic

December 1937


1 2


New Housing Has Replaced These Slums

Brooklyn
Brooklyn
Chicago
Chicago
Atlanta
Atlanta
Cambridge
Cambridge

BROKEN FLAGS OR FLAT BOULDERS LED UP through mud or grass to the front doors of colonial and frontier America. Today we have the first stepping stones that, from such rookeries and shacks as those pictured opposite, lead on to a concerted national program of public low cost housing. One which in the long run confronts a staggering shortage of two million dwellings and the replacement of three million more that are obsolete. These stepping stones are relatively small at the start and naturally enough in these days of concrete each is or must be a mosaic of one sort or another.

1. THERE ARE HALF A HUNDRED PROJects in our first stepping stone laid by the Housing Division of the Public Works Administration. Twenty-three already occupied; tenants already selected for most of the others—little detached houses, or multiple dwellings, built on slum areas or vacant sites, north, south, east and west.

On a crisp morning in October, I visited the largest of them—Williamsburg Houses leased and operated by the New York Housing Authority—located in one of Brooklyn's most blighted areas. Vans were drawing up before one doorway in this new twelve-block development. Early in the new year, 1600 families will be inhabiting its bright, airy, modern apartments, overlooking landscaped courts and playgrounds. Across the street, shabbiness and deterioration hang on, although already there are signs that this modern newcomer is stimulating its oldfashioned neighbors to spruce up.

They are not to be sneezed at, these projects. Look at the pictures that follow and bear in mind that more than 20,000 families, well toward 100,000 men, women and children, will soon be living in their like. And that in moving in, most of them will have left dark indecencies and discomforts behind. They will pay no more for the sunlight and conveniences of the new than they can afford—although their annual incomes are $1500 or less, mostly $1000 and below—incomes which ordinarily cannot provide decent shelter if other equally important household needs are to be met. The explanation is that their rents—averaging $5.32 per room per month—will cover only 55 percent of the cost. Under the exigencies of the depression, really to stimulate employment in a stricken basic industry, the difference comes out of the collective family budget of the United States. Out of a total outlay of $135 million, grants from the federal treasury have covered $60 million—or $10 million less for all these fifty housing demonstrations than it takes to build one battleship.

This takes no account of the savings to be looked for as a by-product of the investment. For slums are luxuries. Take the site of the Cedar Central project at the top of this page. This occupies less than one hundredth of the land area of Cleveland on which one fortieth of all Clevelanders lived. (The percentages are .73 percent and 2.4 percent to be exact.) Yet 7 percent of the delinquency known to the city authorities issued from this district; 21 percent of the murders during the last twelve years were comn1itterl in it; 26 percent of the houses of prostitution lined its streets, 13 percent of Cleveland's deaths frotn tuberculosis took place here. The area absorbed 14.4 percent of all the money spent in the city for fire protection; 6.5 percent of that spent for police. It turned in a nominal tax income of $225,035 in 1932 against public expenditures in the same area (city, county and board of education) of $1,356,980. To this add $490,836 spent by private agencies for visiting nurses, day nurseries, associated charities and other welfare agencies. A total of $1,747,402 represents the initial annual cost to the community of maintaining this small slum area. Some of these public services should go onăbe enhanced; but the Cedar Central housing project strike, at the wastage in money and life.

2. OUR SECOND STEPPING STONE IS MADE up of provisions of the United State housing act—better known as the Wagner-Steagall bill which Congress passtd last August—foundation for our first permanent national housing program. We should never have had it without that first stepping stone, with its fiiq projects, their honest shortcomings, the creative promise, born of experiment and emergency. As result $500 million is now available for loans over a three-yer period for public low cost housing; in addition to $25 million annually for annual or capital subsidies.

Under appointment of President Roosevelt, we have our first housing administrator—Nathan Strauss. New York business man and executive, sponsor of Hillside Houses in the Bronx and former member of tht Housing Authority of New York City. Nonetheless, in contrast to its predecessnt of depression days, the new housing program is a decentralized one. Undtr the new set-up Uncle Sam, through the new United States Housing Authority, is counselor, banker, standard setter; no longer will he undertake to build and operate directly.

 

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