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Mary Bell

Here Is a Concrete Example of Rent Gouging
on an Ohio Defense Project

(15 December 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 50, 15 December 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Within the last year, a huge multi-million dollar arsenal plant was built at Ravenna, Ohio. A boom town of thousands of arsenal workers mushroomed into being. After months of living in trailers or packing-box shacks, sleeping in cars – their quarters condemned by every agency of health and sanitation – the arsenal workers were graciously presented by the U.S. housing authority the imposingly named Westlawn Homes, a “defense” housing project.

On December 1, 80 of the 99 tenants, all arsenal workers residing in Westlawn Homes, petitioned Roosevelt and Congress against rent increases as high as 75 per cent, ordered by the U.S. Housing Authority!

However, the government was not only increasing the rent reasonably, but it was sloughing off shoddy goods. On homes the government proposed to raise from $20 to $35 a month rent, the workers bitterly protested such conditions as:

  1. No basements in the homes.
  2. Poor drainage, with pools of water forming after rains and lasting for days, often seeping through the floors, causing damage and rot.
  3. Concrete floors, many of them constantly damp and wet, causing considerable illness and damage to furnishings.
  4. No plaster on walls.
  5. No concrete walk from door to sidewalk.
  6. Coal furnaces, many of which have been condemned by the fire department.
  7. Children must walk more than a mile to the nearest grade school and cross an unguarded railroad crossing.
  8. No facilities for laundry; necessary to dry clothes in living room in inclement weather.
  9. No facilities for summoning the fire department in case of fire.

Forty employees recently withdrew applications for dwellings at Westlawn and several families moved out because of “unfavorable conditions.” When a local reporter visited the project the renters threatened to strike against “unlivable conditions.” “How would you like to pay $35 a month and find a pool of water in your parlor every time it rains?” they asked.

The project manager explained that the crux of the problem was that the FWA had experimented with a “Utopian” plan of basing the rents charged on all “defense” housing projects on the income of the renter. “The trouble was,” he explained, “one family would be paying $20 for a three bedroom unit and another would be paying $30 for a one bedroom unit.”

“Not only would the one paying the higher rent feel aggravated, but the plant left the government open to charges of socialism,” says the Akron Beacon Journal reporter. This reporter has only to turn to Labor Action to find out what the socialists would advocate. Instead of billions for imperialist war, we’d spend billions for a program of housing that would make the cheap makeshifts the government constructed look like the shacks they replaced.

Oh, yes, the militant inhabitants of the project have raised such a stink, it looks as though the government, its face red, may repair those floors and walks.

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Last updated: 13 September 2014