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George Breitman

Newark Housing Crisis Deepened by the War

Even the Few Housing Projects Will Now Be Turned Over to “Defense” Needs;
Both City Hall Machines Are In on It ...

(22 March 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V. No. 12, 22 March 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

During the last war workers moved to the Newark industrial area in such great nurnbers that a housing shortage arose “so acute that the City was forced to erect tent colonies to shelter hundreds of evicted families; that thousands of families were doubled up in living quarters, and rooming houses were forced to rent the same bed to as many as three lodgers in one day.” (From report of Newark’s World War I Mayor.)

Conditions in the city today are rapidly approaching the same situation. There is a real shortage in homes, flats and apartments. As a result, rents are going up, families are moving in together, cellars and store fronts are being occupied, and when one family moves out of a house in a workers’ neighborhood, there are five to ten applicants for the place during the next two hours. And the trend, because of factory expansion, is toward greater migration into the area.

The picture of Newark’s 44,451 housing structures was shown in the State Housing Authority’s 1934 report:

Situation Not Changed

The Newark Housing Authority reported a few months ago that, in the six years since 1934, the Building Department has granted less than 5,000 permits for alterations, additions and repairs. This would mean repair work on less than ¼ of the buildings needing major repairs or unfit for use, “It is to be noted that many of these permits were for commercial properties and structures in good conditions, thus further reducing the apparent number of sub-standard dwellings affected (by the repairs).”

In this same period, about 1,900 housing units (not structures) were demolished, and 2,600 constructed. Private capital built less than 400 of these, the others being built by FHA and NHA. Since almost as many were demolished as built, the situation remains almost the same.

“In Newark proper,” said the NHA last September, “there has been no house building to speak of, in the past 12 years. New construction has been negligible. Demolition has far outdistanced private new construction in Newark in recent years. Today the most reliable information, obtained shows that there is about a 3% housing vacancy in Newark. A great deal of the 3% vacancies is regarded substandard, much of it unlivable ...”

What NHA Proposes

What conclusions does the NHA, appointed by the present city Commission, draw from this terrible situation?

“It is agreed by most of the interested government agencies, the Newark Housing Authority and the Real Estate Board and property owfrers generally, that whatever additional housing is needed in Newark should be created by private capital.”

Private capital hasn’t built any homes in 12 years. The housing situation is getting more critical every day. Therefore? Therefore, says the NHA with the approval of City Hall and both machines (the Ellenstein-Franklin-Brady group and the Byrne-Clee group), let’s not construct any more federal housing projects. Let’s leave it to private capital! But this is only part of the picture.

Not only does the NHA oppose building more low-cost homes, but it is preparing behind the scenes to “divert” a large or major part of the 2,435 units of federal housing already built or being built, “sell” them to the federal government for the use of “defense workers” on the grounds that poor housing for those workers will interfere with “national defense.”

Very little has been said of this in public. Certainly few of the thousands of low paid workers and relief clients who have applied for admission to these projects know what is coming. But already a bill is being prepared in the State Legislature (this is happening in other states too) which will permit the Authority to solve its problem about the skilled workers flocking into this area at the expense of the thousands who have been waiting for over two years to get into the projects.

That the NHA is already actively at work on this piece of skullduggery was shown in a statement of a member of the Newark Citizens’ Housing Council last week when he demanded reorganization of that body and complained, “I do not construe intelligent co-operation (with the NHA) as being yes-men to the diversion of low rent housing to the use of skilled defense workers ...”

The NHA doesn’t want to build any new homes, but it does want to take away some of those already built and change their character as “low rent housing” for “the duration of the present crisis,”

That is why the Socialist Workers Party in the present election campaign states that the housing crisis will be with us as long as the friends of the landlords and the representatives of big business sit in City Hall. That is why We say: LET LABOR CONTROL THE CITY COMMISSION! Build a labor party to take over City Hall, to prevent the “diversion” of low cost housing already constructed and to extend the housing program by building the homes necessary for the great majority of Newark’s workers!

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