This year marks the 70th anniversary of the New York City Housing Authority, which was established on January 20, 1934. It is also the 70th anniversary of public housing in the United States, because it was here in New York City that the enormous pioneering program of replacing tenements with decent housing was born. Until then, low and moderate-income families in America’s cities were most likely to live in rundown buildings that did not meet even the minimum standards of sanitation, health or safety.
The late 19th-Century Danish-born American journalist and social reformer Jacob Riis, whose reports on living conditions for low-income New Yorkers led to improvements in housing and education said: “The story of inhuman packing of human swarms of bitter poverty and of landlord greed, of darkness and squalor and misery, which these tenements have to tell, is equaled nowhere else in a civilized land.”
The circumstances Riis wrote about began to change when New York City Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia announced the formation of the Housing Authority on the steps of City Hall on that cold January morning 70 years ago, and appointed the first NYCHA Board with Langdon Post as the first NYCHA Chairman. Mayor LaGuardia’s vision and Chairman Post’s policies and concepts of public housing contributed to the shaping of the new organization and continued to influence the Housing Authority for years after. Chairman Post believed that the standards for public housing should equal those of the private sector. Since then, NYCHA has had 17 Chairs and I am keenly aware of the legacy left by my predecessors and of my responsibilities as the 19th Chair of the Housing Authority.
We have come a long way in 70 years, but the task is not complete. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in December 2002, announcing his plans for The New Housing Marketplace said to preserve and create 65,000 units of housing for low and middle-income New Yorkers: “That new generation of ambitious and hard-working New Yorkers deserve just what my parents struggled to achieve and what all parents want for their children: the security that only good homes in safe and stable neighborhoods can provide. Affordable housing is fundamental to our long-term economic prosperity and this commitment demonstrates that in these difficult budget times, the City has found innovative new ways of funding affordable housing.”
As with Mayor LaGuardia, NYCHA is very much a part of Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to create and preserve affordable housing. Unlike the 1940’s, ’50’s and ’60’s, when the Authority built hundreds of new developments and thousands of new apartments, NYCHA’s most important task at present is the preservation of existing housing and the modernization of aging developments, so that we continue to meet the high standards that were set seven decades ago.
This summer we saw a proud display of the scope of NYCHA’s staying power. Two developments celebrated their 60th anniversaries — Ingersoll and Whitman Houses in Brooklyn; and seven celebrated 50th anniversaries — Gravesend Houses in Brooklyn, Martin Luther King and St. Nicholas Houses in Manhattan, Mariner’s Harbor on Staten Island, South Jamaica in Queens, and Highbridge Gardens and Soundview Houses in the Bronx. I was pleased to join residents for the festivities at these landmark events and at as many of the summer’s Family Days.
It is most appropriate in NYCHA’s 70th year that we look back with pride, but we must be mindful of what remains to be done. NYCHA welcomes the challenges along with the achievements and we are going strong.
Happy 70th Anniversary.
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