|An aerial view of of Fort Greene Houses, Brooklyn, 1946. The
project was the largest development ever built by N.YC.H.A.
Completed in 1944, it covered 41 acres, contained 35
buildings, about 3,500 apartments, and housed up to 13,000
On December 3, 1935, the New York City Housing Authority (N.Y.C.H.A.) opened
First Houses on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the first public housing in the United
States. Public housing was based on a commitment to clear slums and to provide affordable, sanitary housing with private bathrooms, central heating, and abundant light and air. Public housing was also built with a commitment to community services, Including nursery schools, playgrounds and community and health centers.
N.Y.C.H.A. transformed New York. Encompassing 2,600 high-rise buildings, public housing cleared away neighborhoods and built on undeveloped land to serve more than 400,000 residents. Public housing was part of urban renewal, whereby governments declared areas slums, claimed and tore down these buildings through its power of eminent domain and built, among other things, housing, hospitals, highways, and performing arts centers. Displacing hundreds of thousands of largely low-income New Yorkers and eliminating the street grid, and often displacing local merchants, urban renewal, like public housing, became more controversial over time. Critics, such as Jane Jacobs, believed that high-rise public housing removed the diversity of the area’s former street life. The old neighborhoods had also provided eyes on the street which increased safety for the community.
|Children playing in the nursery at the South Jamaica Houses,
in Queens, 1940.
Public housing in the United States has been deemed a failure due to high rates of crime and poor housing conditions, but New York’s public housing is a relative success with very low vacancy rates, better managed buildings, higher levels of maintenance, and a
greater commitment to social services. Unlike Chicago or St. Louis, no New York City public housing has been destroyed. Public housing in New York was a vision of planners and social workers who sought to create better housing and lives for low-income New Yorkers. Despite many challenges, N.Y.C.H.A.’s successes remain a legacy to those dreams.
|Jackie Robinson dedicates a playground at Fort Greene
Houses in Brooklyn, 1959.
|N.Y.C.H.A. board member Frank Crosswaith
presents happy couple Mr. and Mrs. Eddie L.
Riley with the key to their new apartment at
Lincoln Houses in East Harlem, December 23,