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Susan Green

Pennies, Splinters Won’t Build Houses

(27 January 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 4, 27 January 1947, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Plenty of dishonest verbiage is being expended by the capitalist government on the need of housing for the people. Hard cash, however, of which hundreds of billions were spent for imperialist war and of which there is still plenty for everything but basic human needs – hard cash is not allocated to build houses. The federal government, as well as the state and municipal governments, are all giving lip-service to the problem – and nothing else.

Take a look at President Truman’s proposed 1947 budget.

In high-sounding phrases he pledged governmental financial support to push home construction “to a high level of activity.” He proposed laws to rebuild “blighted areas of our cities.” Presidents always say such things. But how much cash does Mr. Truman’s budget provide?

Out of a budgetary total of over $37.5 billions, Mr. Truman allocates the unbelievably picayune sum of $544,000,000 for “housing and community facilities.” A sum which hardly amounted to a day’s expenditures in World War II is shamelessly proposed as a stop-gap to one of the most crying peacetime problems. Nor is this sum to be used for building houses, small as it is. A large part of it will go for the purchase by the government of guaranteed home loans to veterans. Why? So that private industry, which is charging veterans. many times more for homes than they are worth, shall not run the risk of making bad loans to veterans who may not be able to stand the gouging they are submitted to.

But Mr. Truman is not a complete dope. He recognizes that

“Our social security program and our education and housing programs can hardly be considered adequate. Improvements in these fields are seriously needed. Although this budget does not contemplate major extensions in the next fiscal year, I recommend that the Congress lay the legislative ground now for the needed improvement, including general health, insurance and a long-range housing program.”

The dear, good President! And what are the homeless people to do while the “legislative groundwork” is being laid? Sleep on the ground, perhaps? Or did the veterans on the West Coast get the idea when they asked cynically for “a tree by ’53”?

Be it noted that the President does not see the need for “legislative groundwork” when it comes to military expenditures. In no uncertain terms and impatient of any delay, he calls for a peacetime military budget of $14,726,000,000, which is nearly 40 per cent of the total peacetime budget.

In New York State

The above indictment of the President is, of course, not meant as applying to the Democrats alone. The Republicans, now dominating Congress, are likely to provide even less than the President for a housing program, because they are more opposed to “government interference” in sacred private enterprise. But a better example of what the Republicans pretend to be doing to house the homeless millions is Governor Thomas E. Dewey’s munificent $25,000,000 appropriation for housing for the whole Empire State. Here we also see that the housing programs of the state governments are as great a sham as that of the federal government.

Like the Democratic President of the United States, the Republican Governor of New York State was unsparing of words. In his message to the State Legislature, Dewey said that housing “merits the most intense thought and effort of us all.” Oh, yes, and “combined with study” and more “effort.” Neither is Dewey a complete dope. He sees that “a stop-gap program” is “no substitute for the building of permanent houses. Moreover, all manpower and material used in temporary housing are diverted from permanent housing.” Well said, well said. But –

Not one dollar was recommended by Dewey for any permanent housing for the Empire State. The only concrete recommendation he made was for that $25,000,000, passed by the Legislature and approved by him, for exactly that temporary housing which he spoke against. For the $25,000,000 is to be spent in converting military camps and abandoned schoolhouses for veteran housing.

The abysmal inadequacy of this so-called housing program of the State of New York is proved by this. Last year the state building program was $35,000,000 for the same kind of temporary housing. This put roofs over the heads of about 3,500 veterans in the whole state, while in the City of New York alone there were 85,000 veteran applications for such housing. Well, the veterans can still look forward to that tree in ’53.

This contempt for human needs shows up even more strikingly against the background of the $467,000,000 post-war reconstruction fund that lies in the treasury of the State of New York. Reconstructing the homes of veterans and civilians after the harrowing war must not interfere with the circumspect spending of this huge fund so as to bring the best political gains to the Republican politicians. It is rumored that paying out $600,000,000 for up-state highways in the next few years may mean more to Dewey in 1948 than providing housing in the overcrowded city – which is Democratic, anyway.

That brings us around to New York City, where it is reported a quarter of a million families are actually looking for a place to lay down their heads and call their home. The Housing Authority of New York City, by whose grace some 16,780 families live in projects, is going to “solve” the housing crisis by a unique method of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Mr. Butler, housing genius and head of the Housing Authority, is trying to get OPA’s consent to evict from the housing projects all families whose incomes are over $3,000 a year. When the projects were put up, $2,355 was set as the maximum income to make a family eligible to live in the houses. When the war came and the cost of living and wages rose, the Housing Authority increased the maximum income for tenants to $3,000. This was a reasonable thing to do, but now all reason is thrown to the winds.

Housing Impasse

Mr. Butler says that “in view of increased private residential construction” tenants with more than $3,000 income should be turned out to hunt for apartments on their own. The fact that the cost of living has gone up over 50 per cent since 1939 and families with more than $3,000 income may be poorer in actual purchasing power, that fact doesn’t impress Mr. Butler. Nor does he consider that “private residential construction” is a mere trickle, nor that the costs of new houses and rentals of new apartments are beyond his $3,000-a-year tenants. Nor does the fact that a quarter of a million families are already looking for homes stay the evictioner’s hand.

At present 11,623 families or about 68 per cent of the 16,780 in the projects are subject to eviction under the new plan. Of course, this will make room for 11,623 families whose incomes are less than $3,000. It will certainly not increase the number of available apartments nor decrease the number of families looking for them.

A bright development on the rent front in New York City is the demand of the Tenants Protective Association of the apartment houses at 50 Manhattan Avenue for rent reductions. Yes, rent reductions when the landlords are clamoring for rent raises! Claiming that the thefts and robberies in the houses are due to the absence of a doorman, a service included in their rent, the tenants want a rent cut to enable them to pay for their own guards. OPA has the matter under advisement.

With rent ceilings due to expire June 30 and the real estate lobby in Congress hell-bent to kill them, it is good strategy for tenants to demand rent cuts for the absence of services for which they are paying, such as doormen, regular standard redecorating, regular upkeep of halls and lobbies, adequate heat and other things that are now lacking. The prime essential is organization by the tenants for action, both offensive and defensive.

As to an adequate program for providing houses for the people, the demand of the Workers Party and of Labor Action for a $250,000,000,000 expenditure in the next five years is modest and reasonable in the critical situation. But neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, and no capitalist government, will spend that much money on the people who produce all the wealth. It will take an independent Labor Party, fighting for a workers’ government, to bring such a realistic housing program within sight.

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