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What Price Slum Clearance? (1953)



Background Memorandum New York State Committee On Discrimination In Housing: February 24, 1953


 The City of New York has approved plans for the displacement of at least 45,000 families within the next three years as a result of urban redevelopment, public housing projects and other public improvements such as schools, roads and port authority projects. This means that 150,000 to 180,000 human beings will be uprooted and forced to move. The elimination of slums and the creation of healthy neighborhoods are necessary and worthy objectives. In the process, however, the city has certain responsibilities and obligations to the displaced families as well as the city as a whole, to see to it that social benefit for one section of the population does not result in severe hardship for others.

After an intensive attempt to comb city agencies for relevant information, we have come to the conclusion that the city is not facing the situation realistically. No one department has been charged with responsibility to assess the nature of the problem or the risks involved. City agencies in reviewing projects have paid little attention to the relocation problem and have approved projects on an uncoordinated piece-meal basis. Facts which are readily available were not collected by any one city department. Other data, available from the Bureau of Census for a minimum price, had never been requested. Ironically, so far as we know, no city adding machine had ever totaled the displacement figure referred to above.

We were unable to get the following basic information from any city agency:

  1. The total number of families to be displaced by all slum clearance operations within the next three years.
  2. An accurate analysis of the income distribution, family size and race of site tenants.
  3. A scientific estimate of the number of families who must relocate in private housing broken down on a racial basis.
  4. An estimate of the number of new dwellings with rental distribution to be made available within the next three years.
  5. A time table indicating when families are likely to be displaced and when new housing is likely to be made available.
  6. The present vacancy rate with rent distribution for the vacant apartments.
  7. An analysis of what has happened to the former residents of public housing sites who have not been relocated in public housing.


 Without this information it simply is not possible to plan the proper rehousing of displaced families. However, by pulling together data from various sources, both public and private, it was possible to arrive at certain conclusions. The problem may be starkly stated as follows:

  1. At least 22,000 families will be made homeless within the next three years with no place to go.
  2. Some 60% or 12,500 of these families belong to minority groups. Roughly 40% are Negro and 20% are Puerto Rican.

Total Displacement

A conservative estimate of the total number of families that will have to find new housing within the next three years because of approved public housing projects, urban redevelopment projects and veterans temporary housing is 39,267.

For the past two years the displacement caused by school and hospital construction has averaged 2,200 families per year. It is to be expected that this rate will continue. Port Authority projects such as Bridge improvements will add hundreds of displaced families. Thus, 45,000 families to be displaced within the next three years is the very least that can be expected.

Urban Redevelopment Displacement

The sever urban redevelopment projects which have already received city approval – Corlears Hook, Harlem, North Harlem, West Park, Manhattanville, Columbus Circle, Ft. Greene – will replace 9,604 present dwellings. Forty-five per cent or 4,341 of these units are not occupied by Negroes. At present we do not have exact data concerning the number of Puerto Rican families now living on all the sites. It is known that in the West Park area 34% of the present residents are Puerto Rican and in Manhattanville 16% are Puerto Rican. The total figure is decidedly underestimated since it is stated in terms of dwelling units and does not take into account the overcrowding prevalent in all the areas.

The Mayor’s Committee on Slum Clearance has proposed an additional four projects which, if approved, would displace 9,005 more dwelling units. We are not taking this figure into consideration at this time.

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Public Housing Displacement

Twenty-five thousand four hundred fifty (25,450) families now live on the sites of public housing projects that are either in construction or have received the approval of the Board of Estimate. The city does not have a racial breakdown of this figure but utilizing sample census block data for the areas, we can estimate that at least 7500 Negro families are involved.

In addition, there are 4,213 families still living in temporary veteran’s housing who have to be rehoused. Twenty-five per cent of these families are Negro.


Because of the paucity of information, it is only possible to make rough conclusions regarding the housing available to these families. There are three sources for such housing: urban redevelopment projects, public housing and private housing

Urban Redevelopment

The Mayor’s Committee on Slum Clearance reports conflicting information concerning the number of families who can be relocated in the redevelopment projects themselves. Since rentals will range from $23. To $30 per room per month, it is apparent that the minimum income necessary to carry the rental of a one bedroom apartment is $4,000. Even this figure, however, is unrealistic, since family composition will in most instances require larger and consequently more expensive apartments. In addition the lower monthly payments are in cooperatives which require a cash down payment.

A carefully analysis of the first seven projects proposed by the Mayor’s Committee – Corlears Hook, Delancey Street, Harlem, North Harlem, South Village, Washington Square and Williamsburgh – showed that only 18.5% of the families now living on these sites have income over $3500. The same general income distribution would apply to the projects which have been approved. On the basis of these figures, therefore, 15% is probably the highest number of families displaced by urban redevelopment projects who could relocate, income-wise within the projects themselves. At most, 1,440 families could move back, leaving 8,164 still to be taken care of.

The same ration would apply to the residents of public housing sites. Thus 3,817 families displaced by public housing could relocate in Title I projects. This would leave 21,633 families in this category to be otherwise accommodated.

Although, at most 5,257 families displaced by both urban redevelopment and public housing could technically relocate within the urban redevelopment projects, this does not take into account demolition time tables, the variation in rents charged in the different projects or sizes of the displaced families. If we add to these families displaced by other public improvements, almost all the units to be built would be taken up by displaced families alone.

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Public Housing

The New York City Housing Authority estimates that 31.7% of the families in the redevelopment areas (or 3,044 families) are eligible for public housing and of those living on public housing sites, 35% (or 8,907 families) are eligible. (This includes both low income and no cash subsidy public housing).

The total number of displaced families eligible to relocate in public housing projects plus the number now living in veterans temporary projects who would thus be taken care of would account foralmost 35% of the 48,000 public housing units planned within the next three years. This does not take into consideration the 125,000 eligible families now on the waiting list of the New York City Housing Authority, some of whom have priorities by reason of having been displaced from slum sites. In addition, the priorities assigned to the displaced families vary depending upon whether the public housing project is a Federal project or a state project, since urban redevelopment displaces do not have a priority for state low rent housing projects. The families displaced by other public improvements have no special priority for public housing.


We have given the most liberal interpretation of the number of displaced families who can be rehoused in public housing and redevelopment projects. Yet we are still left with a hard core of 22,000 families who must enter the general housing market in order to find living quarters. Five thousand one hundred twenty (5,120) of these result from urban redevelopment and 13,000 from public housing operations and temporary projects. The remaining 4,000 allow for uncounted doubling and redevelopment sites and displacement by schools, hospitals, road and Port Authority projects.

Using census block data and other information available concerning Puerto Rican concentration we have come to the conclusion that almost 60 of the total displaces are Negro or Puerto Rican. This ration would mean that some 12,500 Negro and Puerto Rican families must find private housing.

The Private Housing Market

In January, 1950, the Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted a survey of vacant apartments in New York City. They found that the vacancy rate for private and publicly financed housing for sale and rent was .04%, the median rental being $91. Per month. Only 35% of these units rent for under $74. The census analysis of city vacancies put the rate at 1.1% as of April 1, 1950. The total number of units then habitable and available was 23,820 for the entire city but only 8,337 rent at $74. Per month or below. The number of these apartments which are sub-standard, heatless, cold water flats is not known. Competition for these moderate rental Apartments is overwhelming with only a minute percentage of them available to Negroes or Puerto Ricans. The great need which exists for housing in this group is indicated by the fact that although Negroes make up 20% of the population of Manhattan, they only occupy 16% of the dwellings. Immigration is continuing at a rapid rate and the pressure of middle income families to get out of sub-standard and cellar apartments is still unabated. Just the natural increase in new families created by marriage would be sufficient to occupy all these apartments. In the new buildings being constructed the rentals, of course, are much higher.

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The median rental for vacant housing is somewhat higher than that for the urban redevelopment projects. Thus, only the same 15% who are eligible to return to the urban redevelopment projects could afford private rental housing. It is evident, therefore, that private housing does not offer resources for the hard core of 22,000 displaced families. Housing for sale does not offer any help either, since 52% of the homes for sale sell for 10,500 and over. Carrying charges needed to maintain these homes are somewhat higher than rents in vacant apartments in the city.

It would seem at this time that the only place for these people to go would be the already overcrowded, sub-standard apartments in the slums. As far as Negroes and Puerto Ricans are concerned, even if they were economically able to afford the private housing, at least 97% of it is unavailable to them.

Sub-standard slum conditions and overcrowding in slum areas have been making the headlines to such an extent for the past few months that they hardly need emphasis here. Census revealed that almost 10% (9.6) of all dwellings in the city lack either a private bath or running water. The total number of dwellings in this category is 225,000. There is no count on the number of families in cellars but according to reports made by City Council President Halloy and Charles Abrams in the New York Post and the presentment of the Brooklyn grand jury investigation on conditions in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the number is staggering. This then is where 22,000 families must be relocated, the Negroes and Puerto Ricans, of course, being the ones who are hardest hit.

Source: Background Memorandum New York State Committee On Discrimination In Housing: February 24, 1953

Document Source: University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN:

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