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Before long, of course, a slum property owner challenged the authority of the health department in the housing field on the grounds that his lowely tenants did not deserve better housing. The owner eventually lost out in criminal court, but not without convincing the health officials that their nuisance-abatement powers had technical weaknesses. Then it was that the months of hard-boiled newspaper publicity paid off, because the city councilmen, in an unprecedented burst of economic understanding, passed a municipal housing code in 1941 that detined minimum housing requirements in specific terms and gave health officials separate power to enforce a program of sanitary housing in Baltimore.
Two years later the new housing code had successfully met the legal challenger of slum owners, and the health department had been given a staff of inspectors to enforce the code's provisions. By that time, however, Baltimore was in the midst of a housing crisis similar to all industrial centers. Incoming war workers were fighting for any available space from cellar to attic in rotting houses and abandoned tenements.
To condemn and pull down housing on a wholesale scale during an acute housing shortage is a political impossibility, no matter how bad that housing may be. So the Baltimore health department used its new powers to eorrect reported housing violations too crass to be ignored. Out of that wartime venture into housing-law enforcement, which brought the city through four tortured years without a major disaster or epidemic, came the realization that many slum property owners, rather than lose their gold mines through condemnation, could be made to rectify the most glaring deficiencies in slum housing, and that an enforcement drive aimed at cleaning up one block at a time would have a more lasting effect than single-shooting at reported bad spots in scattered parts of the city.
Immediately after the war, representatives of all the Baltimore city agencies concerned with housing got together and agreed to pool their personnel and authority for a mass attack on the worst blocks in the city. Block No. 1 was their first target, and into its 63. houses went health, fire, and building inspectors to compile joint lists of illegal conditions. Notices of housing violations were sent to landlords and tenants with orders to correct existing defects within a specific time or face court action.
The first notices to correct housing violations were almost wholly disregarded. Since the campaign was a new one, landlords and tenants alike adopted a waitand-see attitude. Court action followed slowly with postponement after postponement as violators found fresh excuses for their inability to install toilets or clear away garbage. In a year and a half the frustrated law-enforcement officers were able to get only a block and a half cleaned up. The one completed block was the now famous Block No. 1-an impressive result, to be sure, but hardly a miracle wrought overnight.
The enforcement ofiicers knew, at least in part, why their campaign only crawled along. Housing cases were heard by more than a dozen different police magistrates, most of whom did not know a downsport from a sewer line, and who already had a courtroom filled with petty criminals, runaway couples, and feuding neighbors. The magistrates let housing violators stall indefinitely for time or fined them too little to serve as a warning to other violators, What Baltimore needed, and eventually got in mid-1917, was a housing court where all housing cases could be heard separately by a single magistrate who both knew and appreciated the value of city housing laws. With the establishment of that court, and the delegation of 16 policemen to a special housing-sanitation squad, the slum clean-up drive began to warrant national attention.
A day in Baltimore's housing court, the first of its kind in the Nation, is an education, and the presiding judge, Magistrate Harry S. Kruger, intends that it should be just that. A tenant comes before him charged with littering her home or yard with trash. She pleads not guilty, saying that her neighbors are the dirty ones. The police “sanitarians” say, on the contrary, that her property is a neighborhood trouble spot. Judge Kruger fines her lightly-perhaps $1 and costs and explains in a brief speech, intended as much for spectators as for the defendant, why the city, down to the smallest house or lot, must be kept free of filth.
A landlord appears, and the sordid details of a three-story slum house with five dwelling units are revealed by health inspectors. The one toilet for five families has been out of order for several weeks. There are holes in the floors, and plaster is falling. One family, with two small children, lives in a dirtfloored cellar. There are three active cases of tuberculosis in the house, two children have rheumatic fever, and others have been bitten by rats. The landlord pleads that building materials have been scarce. The judge, however, points to the record and says that hundreds of slum houses have recently been equipped with inside toilets, and many other types of major repairs are being made daily.
“It's been 9 months,” the magistrate remarks, “since you got your notice to make repairs. You were not forced into this business, and you're not new at it. You say that you have more than a hundred houses and that you can't repair them all at once. But so far you have done almost nothing to improve any of them. This five-family house we're now talking about is one you bought for about $1,000. You're getting $120 a month out of it in rents. That's a good return, and you should be interested in protecting such an investment. When you own that type of property you assume an obligation to its occupants and to people of the city. I find you guilty ; $50 and costs.”
Occasionally a defense lawyer complains to Judge Kruger, after court has adjourned, that he exceeds his legal authority in his sermons on slum-housing practices, but by then the judge has made his point. Sometimes, too, a property owner not in sympathy with the judge's concern for the human side of slum life leaves the court muttering, “Let's go see the Governor." Such incidents are becoming increasingly rare, however. The housing court's record of fairness in the disposition of 2,300 cases in the first year and a half of its existence has left recalcitrant landlords with no grounds for appeals to public or political sympathy. And for every case taken to court, health and building inspectors are now able to get more than 10 violations cleared up without help from the judge.
By the first of this year, 18 months after the establishment of its housing court and police-sanitation squad, Baltimore had rid itself of 5,000 outdoor toilets and some 6,000 of the high wooden fences that encourage back-yard trash piles, eliminate play space, and shut off light and air. About 20,000 internal housing violations had been corrected, which means less dampness and rat infestation, fewer fire and safety hazards, and generally improved living conditions for a significant number of slum dwellers. More gratifying yet, landlords and tenants in blocks ahead of those in which the inspectors were working had begun to comply with housing laws withont waiting for oflicial orders.
Baltimore, then, has a slum-housing program that warrants attention. Inquiries about its operation have come from almost every State and from points as far removed as Hawaii, Brazil, and Australia. Many of these inquiries, however, represent wishful thinking that can be traced directly to the widespread, misleading publicity given the Baltimore plan by the National Association of Home Builders. Through magazine articles and a $20,000 film strip, the Home Builders have represented the plan as yielding immense dividends in health and property values, gradually ridding this great metropolitan center of its slum areas, providing much-needed minimum housing, and markedly reducing the rate of juvenile delinquency.
The interest of the Home Builders in the Baltimore plan is easy enough to explain. As part of the powerful real-estate lobby, the Home Builders are exploiting before-and-after pictures of block No. 1 as evidence that slum conditions can be eliminated through private enterprise without public-housing and sium-clearance programs. But anyone who believes that the Baltimore plan is an adequate substitute for tearing down the worst slum areas and building anew is hopelessly deluded. The plan does not provide much-needed minimum housing, nor does it actually rid a city of its slm areas. It does eliminate some of the more obvious sources of disease and provide children, under ideal circumstances, with offstreet play space. Yet even if such results could be accurately measured, they would not add up to immense dividends.
The slums in Baltimore remain slums, with not a single new dwelling unit in all the jam-packed blocks. Some houses have been patched up, to be sure, and there is less sewage standing in backyard puddles, but the blight remains. The sense of achievement that comes with getting a particularly dilapidater house repairel is offset by the knowledge that the occupants of the house are still sleeping three and four to a bed, with all the hazards that accompany over("rowding. Also chastening is the realization that, so far, fewer than 30 out of an estimated 2,000 slum blocks have been crossed off as "completed" in the blockby-block campaign. As one health official remarked, “We won't live to see the end of this program.” And, if this were not enough to tone down the extravagant claims made for the program, Baltimore has belateilly discovered that a cleanedup block does not necessarily remain clean for long in the absence of a supplementary program, as yet undeveloped, to sell sanitation to all slum dwellers. What the Home Builders and other real-estate groups have overlooked in giving their rosy presentation of the Baltimore plan is the better-than-average possibility that the plan will prove to be a Trojan horse as far as their own interests in housing are concerned. What a housing-law enforcement campaign does in the long run is expose the facts of slum life, and these facts, if they get into the hands of an active civic group like Baltimore's Citizens Planning and Housing Association, do little to bolster claims that the slums should be left in private hands. In Baltimore, at least, the campaign has given the public almost daily examples of the ways in which private investors exploit human misery in slum areas at the public's expense. Such examples are hardly likely to turn the public against public housing.
The Baltimore plan has awakened in Baltimoreans the realization that taxpayers as a whole underwrite the gilt-edged investments of slum-property owners. They have learned that 40 percent of their staggering city budget goes for the support of downtown slum areas that comprise less than 10 percent of the city's total area. They have become aware that property assessments in those slum areas have dropped $10,000,000 since 1938, with the result that Baltimoreans spend an estimated $14,000,000 more per year on their slums than they get back through real-estate taxes. Baltimoreans now know, in short, that they are dumping precious tax money down ratholes, and the knowledge has stirred them into action.
In the spring of 1947 the voters of Baltimore turned down a $2,300.000-loan proposal to give the city funds to buy up large parcels of slum property for redevelopment purposes. But in November 1948, after a year of the public education that went with an intensified housing-law enforcement campaign, the same voters passed a $5,000,000 redevelopment loan by a large majority. More sig. nificant yet, the voters supported the slum-(learance plan while turning down a smaller loan for a new municipal stadium. That is one good reason for the assumption that attempts to make the Baltimore plan an end in itself will fail. The more the public learns of slum conditions, the less content it is to settle for a makeshift clean-up program.
This is not to imply that the plan is not a good one. The Baltimore plan is the least that a city can do for its slum areas. There is no reason, save ("unplacency. for a city's allowing a few private investors to milk dry an ever-widening portion of its residential area. Some of the money extracted from low-income families should be forced back into slum housing to maintain property values and safe. guard public health and safety. And, as long as investors advertise their willingness to pay cash for dwellings condemned by city officials, there can be no doubt that there are profits in slun housing that should be tapped to help pay the bills for the disease, poverty, crime, and fires that make the slums a public burden.
Utilized most effectively, the Baltimore plan offers any city a simple method of preventing the further spread of shum blight by compelling landlords to fix up marginal housing before it becomes hopelessly dilapidated. As for the housing too far gone for permanent restoration, the plan presents an inexpensive way to make the worst dwellings more nearly fit for human habitation by seeing to it that both landlords and tenants live up to basic health and safety requirements.
Baltimore fosters no illusions that it has the whole answer to slum problems. But it is prepared to show other cities what can be done temporarily to ease a situation that will certainly trouble Americans for generations to come.
Mayor D'ALESANDRO. It has been said that housing and slum clearance are local problems and should be handled directly by the cities and States without Federal assistance. I am not going to debate the theoretical merits of this question, but I will say that without Federal assistance nothing effective will be done, except in a few of the wealthier States. The areas which have the worst housing needs are those which are least able to help themselves. The problem is one of the most urgent domestic issues confronting the country. For the Federal Government to turn the whole matter back to the States and cities would represent an indefensible neglect of its proper responsibility for the national welfare.
I have so far spoken mainly about public housing, because it has caused more controversy than any other aspect of the proposed legislation being considered by this committee. I do not, however, want to overlook two other items included in this bill or in other pending legislation : redevelopment and middle-income housing.
My support for public housing is not inconsistent with my belief that private enterprise should be encouraged and assisted to handle as much of the housing and slum-clearance problem as it can. Private enterprise has not heretofore been able to operate in slum areas because of the high cost of existing properties and the difficulties involved in assembling an areas sufficiently large to be usable. Redevelopment, as proposed in title I of H. R. 1009, provides a formula to overcome these difficulties. Use of this formula should enable private enterprise to assume a portion of the job of slum clearance.
The necessity for Federal assistance to redevelopment is illustrated by our experience in Baltimore. The Baltimore Redevelopment Commission was one of the first to be created in the country. Eight official redevelopment areas have been established, covering a total of about 400 acres. These areas represent only a portion of our total slum areas. Last November the city overwhelmingly approved a $5,000,000 bond issue for redevelopment purposes. This is the most that the city can afford, and yet it will serve to treat only one-or, at most, twoof the eight areas. H. R. 2009, if adopted, will, in effect, triple our resources and enable us to use private enterprise in tackling a real job of slum clearance.
H. R. 4009 i: primarily designed to assist low-income families. These are, of course, the families most urgently in need of assistance, but in centering our attention on this group we should not overlook the fact that there is a middle-income group above the public-housing level, but below the point at which private enterprise is currently providing decent housing. Certain additional legislation has been introduced into Congress designed to deal with this problem through either a liberalization of Federal Housing Administration mortgage insurance or a system of direct loans to cooperatives and nonprofit corporations. I do not wish to comment in detail on this legislation other ihan to state that the United States Conference of Mayor's heartily endorse its purpose.
In speaking before the Senate committee on S. 138, I concluded with a number of recommendations for changes in the bill which were also advocated by other witnesses. I am very happy to note that practically all of these changes have been incorporated in the Senate bill and in H. R. 1009. The two bills are virtually identical except that H. R. 4009 authorizes 1,050,000 low-rent public dwellings in 7 years as against the Senate bill's 810,000 dwellings in 6 years. We believe that the higher figure in the bill before your committee represents a more realistic appraisal of the size of the problem, and we strongly urge you to hold to this figure.
Is you know, when the housing bill was debated in the Senate, a determined effort was made by a small group to cripple the bill through amendments. Many of these amendments appeared plausible on the surface, but, if adopted, they would have effectively blocked proper administration of the bill. Fortunately, all such amendments were decisively rejected in the Senate, but it appears probable that the effort to have them adopted will be renewed in the House. The bill as it now stands is in excellent shape. It is based upon several of careful study of the problem and of past experience in administer
ing the present public housing program. Amendments either lastily conceived or deliberately injurious can easily nullify all of this past effort. We would, therefore, urge you to give each proposed amendment the most careful examination.
During the debate in the Senate on the housing bill, a number of Senators informed themselves at first-hand by touring slum areas here in Washington. I am familiar with these areas, for during part of the time I was in Congress I was chairman of a District of Columbia subcommittee and made many trips through the District's slums. Bad as these areas are, they are not unique. We have sections in Baltimore which, if anything, are far worse-some so bad that they have literally sickened hardened policemen. I would like to extend a personal invitation to any Member of Congress to visit Baltimore and see for himself what these conditions are. Baltimore is very close, and a trip over would not take long. If the members of this committee, or any other Members of Congress, wish to make such a trip, please let me know.
We have worked long and hard for adequate housing and slumclearance legislation. Last year the prospects appeared uncertain: but I, for one, have never lost hope. In Baltimore we have been so confident that the urgency of the problem would eventually be recognized that exactly a year ago the city made a special allocation of funds to our housing authority to undertake a program of advance planning. Now that it appears certain that we will get some action, it is gratifying to know that we will be in a position to start work quickly.
Allow me to thank the committee for the privilege of appearing here for the United States Conference of Mayors in support of H. R. 2009.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I would like to have some reports from individual cities inserted in the record at this time.
The CHAIRMAN. That may be done.
BIRMINGILAN, ALA., April 12. 1919. PAUL V. BETTERS,
Washington, D. ('.: The housing and slum-clearance bill up for consideration this week in United States Senate is one of the most vital needs of the cities of our country. We urgently recommend its passage and as president of the United States ('onference of Mayors, and in behalf of the United States cities, we respectfully ask of the Senate that they give this bill their earnest consideration, and we pray for the passage of this act, because from the slum areas of the cities we know crime, communism, and disease thrive and prosper. Housing in many cities is a dire necessity due to crowded conditions, especially in the lower-income groups. Sixty percent of the population of our country live in urban areas today, and we the mayors of the American cities deplore the slums and the housing situation, but financially we can do nothing without the passage of the housing and slum bill now before our Senate, and may I urge you as our executive director to let our Senators and Representatives know we will appreciate deeply their efforts to eliminate this cancerous growth on our American way of life.
W. COOPER GREEN, President, United States Conference of Mayors, Vayor of Birmingham, .1la.
PITTSBURGH, PA., April 1.2. 1949. PAU. V. BETTERS,
Washington, D. C.: Pittsburgh desperately needs housing action contemplated in Senate bill 1070. Our local housing authority has long had applications pending for 7,000 low-rent homes. Our actual need is much greater. And it is my hope that we will double that figure when the bill is passed. Present new housing in Pittsburgh is not