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TABLE 8.-ESTIMATED COST OF BUILDINGS FOR WHICH PERMITS WERE ISSUED
IN PRINCIPAL CITIES, OCTOBER AND NOVEMBER, 1931--Continued
Experiments in Negro Housing in New York and Cincinnati
Paul Laurence Dunbar Apartments WHE Labor Review for September, 1929 (p. 107), contained a
description of the Paul Laurence Dunbar Apartments, one of the first experiments in cooperative housing for Negroes on a large scale. Situated in Harlem, it was intended both to help in relieving the immediate overcrowding and to serve an educational end for tenants and management alike. The buildings were to be occupied, managed, and eventually owned exclusively by Negroes. It was a venture into an entirely new field, and while its backers were confident of success, they admitted that there were problems before them. The Negro in Harlem found himself too often compelled to live in the midst of noise, dirt, overcrowding, ugliness, and delinquency. The Dunbar project offered an escape from such conditions, but those taking it must inevitably give up some of their own liberty of action and submit to unaccustomed regulation; in fact, as the management put it, they must make a sort of self-denying ordinance, and accept a degree of supervision which was needed only by the minority but which inured to the advantage of all. In addition to this, the rents, while low as compared with those of the neighborhood, are high for the income of many of the tenants; taking lodgers as a means of meeting this difficulty is either forbidden or regulated strictly according to the size of the apartment. Also, the Negroes have been harder hit than
the white citizens by the industrial depression which has prevailed for a considerable part of the time since the houses were put up. Thus it is evident that there were very real hindrances in the way of
At present, however, approximately four years after the apartments were opened for occupancy, the difficulties seem to have been surmounted, and the experiment has so far proved its value that plans are under way for a similar attempt in a neighboring city.
The Buildings The Dunbar group, with six independent buildings, occupies the block bounded by One hundred forty-ninth and One hundred fiftieth Streets and Seventh and Eighth Avenues, New York City. Along these streets the fronts are broken by formal doorways and by arched entrances into the inner courts, through which appear singularly attractive glimpses of the trees, shrubbery, gardens, and playgrounds to which a full half of the area of the block is devoted. Beauty has been kept in mind in designing the buildings, in laying out the grounds, and in arranging that necessary activities may be carried on without interference with the general effect. The fire escapes are inconspicuously located, clothes are dried on the roof where they are hidden from public view by a parapet which forms part of the design of the whole structure, a basement room, "the kiddies' garage," provides storage space for baby carriages, scooters, velocipedes, and the like when not in use, and the usual arrangements for the disposal of trash and garbage are carried out with unusual attention to detail and effectiveness.
The Dunbar contains, in addition to 10 stores on the ground floor, 513 apartments, ranging in size from 3 rooms (with a dining bay) tó 7, bathrooms not being counted as rooms. Each room in a suite is substantially like the same type of room in all the other suites, and each apartment is provided with hot and cold water, electricity, set tubs, and gas ranges, refrigerators, and dumb waiters. The buildings are only two rooms deep, so that each apartment has direct sunlight and abundant ventilation. There are playgrounds and playrooms for the children, a nursery where for a small fee mothers may leave their babies under the care of an experienced nurse, and a clubroom for the larger boys and young men, with provisions for athletic events, boxing, and the like, as well as for quieter amusements.
Terms of Occupancy
Only stockholders may occupy apartments, and only occupants may be stockholders. A would-be participator buys an amount of stock proportioned to the size of the apartment he selects, by making a down payment of $50 per room, and thereafter by successive monthly payments which cover the upkeep of the apartment, as well as interest and amortization payments on the cost. On making the down payment he receives a 3-year lease of his apartment, and at the end of this period he has the option of renewing the lease or of requesting the corporation to resell his stock at par. The management has the right to terminate the lease at any time if the tenant should prove objectionable, a right which it has rarely been necessary to exercise.
The monthly payments range, according to the location of the apartment, from $11.50 up to $17.50 a room, the average rate being $14.50 a room.
Rather more than half of this amount-$7.69, on the average-goes toward payment of principal and interest, the remainder being devoted to upkeep and taxes, for an interesting feature of the experiment is that no application has been made for the tax exemption which the New York law permits to low-cost housing. On this point the cooperators indulge in a little excusable self-congratulation:
With $3,939,000,000 worth of real property in the State of New York exempt from State and local taxation, the Dunbar cooperative community rejoices that it has not been called upon to sacrifice its own civic self-respect by foisting upon others its due proportion of the burden of taxation. In this matter we pull our own weight in the boat.
Management and Tenants The management is in every respect in the hands of Negroes. A resident Negro superintendent and assistant superintendent are responsible for the conduct of the whole enterprise, five Negro policemen guard the premises, a force of Negro painters, plumbers, decorators, etc., keep the buildings in good repair, and Negro janitors, firemen, and watchmen are on duty day and night. The tenants range from unskilled laborers to wealthy and prominent members of the race. There has been a distinct effort to include some of the latter, as an encouragement and inspiration to the less successful, but in the main the desire is to reach those who can not be considered persons of means. An occupational grouping of the tenant owners, excluding pursuits in which fewer than 10 are engaged, showed the following results:
- 336 Of 465 tenant owners who reported the exact amount they were earning at the time of applying for apartments, one-half received less and one-half more than $149 per month. The lowest quartile received $122 or less per month, and the highest quartile $177 or more. In view of these figures the management is satisfied that the apartments are serving the class of persons for whom they were designed.
No requirement is made concerning children, except that there must be no crowding a large family into a small apartment. Since,
however, the Dunbar community numbers around 2,000 individuals, it is probable that most tenants have children.
Tenant turnover is small, and there is usually a waiting list of would-be tenant owners. Most apartment houses have suffered in the present depression, and tenants have been doubling up, moving into cheaper quarters, going to live with relatives, or otherwise seeking to cut housing expenses. Yet in October, 1931, there were only 15 vacancies among the 513 apartments in the Dunbar group.
Other Activities The health work and the placement bureau are important community activities, and the Dunbar National Bank, while not strictly a community enterprise, is closely connected with the whole plan. The health work is carried on in a wholly informal manner by the management, which places in the hands of all the adults the literature of the Life Extension Institute, sees that expectant mothers are supplied with the publications, suited to their condition, issued by the Federal bureaus, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., arranges radio addresses on health questions, etc. The assistant resident manager, herself both a mother and a professional woman, is ready at all times to confer with the mothers over problems of the health and management of the children, and the day nursery, in the charge of a practical nurse, gives exceptional opportunities for bringing about such consultations naturally.
The placement bureau was a logical development. Tenant owners unfortunately lose their positions from time to time, and it seemed to the management far better to assist them in finding new ones than to dispossess them for failure to keep up their payments. Also, boys and girls are growing up and seeking employment, and for these vocational guidance, as well as help in finding work, is needed. The service began in September, 1928, and has proved itself a community interest as well as a community service.
The first placements that we made came directly through the cooperation of tenant owners who reported such vocational opportunities for persons of color as they personally knew of. And this has continued. Every week we are able to make placements because members of our own community who hear of jobs immediately relay the information to us.
Not only have individuals we have been instrumental in placing given satisfaction, but despite the exceedingly low wages in many cases they stick to their jobs. Of course, the employers are very enthusiastic. * * Wecharge no fees of any kind, direct or indirect.
While we give every preference to persons living in the Dunbar Apartments, we refer occupational opportunities which we can not fill ourselves to other social agencies which are concerned with placements.
The Dunbar National Bank, located on the Eighth Avenue side of the apartments, opened under the direction of a white president, vice president, and cashier, with a board of directors predominantly
a white and an operating staff composed wholly of colored persons. The purpose of this combination, it is explained, was to enable the Dunbar to start upon a footing of cordial and helpful relations with other banks and financial institutions, and to give the colored operating staff a chance to receive the best possible training in the exacting technique of banking under New York City conditions, a training which they would find difficulty in obtaining elsewhere.
On the business side, also, the enterprise seems to be carrying itself satisfactorily. The plan originated with John D. Rockefeller, jr., who advanced the money needed, and gave his aid in developing the whole project. The apartments were erected at a cost of $3,330,000; this included the actual cost of land and building, including architect's fees, insurance and taxes during construction, together with interest on the money advanced. The project as a whole was offered to Negro Harlem at cost, with interest at 5 per cent, and no brokerage. It is calculated that in a period of about 22 years the tenants will have paid for the entire enterprise, including the land. The net operating profits of the project for the three years ending January 31, 1929, 1930, and 1931 were, respectively, $41,104, $40,416, and $17,023. The marked falling off in the latest yearis due to an increase in operating expenses, which in turn was “due principally to the fact that last year the management deemed it advisable to do considerable redecorating, thus not only giving employment to very worthy men but at the same time putting the house in the best possible condition so that when the cost of such work increases, as it undoubtedly will with the return of prosperity, the corporation will not need to do so much of this work. The management is convinced that this is sound policy.” Of course the success of the experiment depends largely upon good management, and careful measures have been taken to insure this.
An efficient management for the apartments is practically guaranteed by the provisions of the lease and subscription agreement for a period of more than 20 years. During this time the preferred stock, which alone has any voting power, will remain in the hands of Mr. Rockefeller. Our community of approximately 2,000 souls will become so habituated to the advantages of good management that thereafter, we believe, it will tolerate nothing less.
Cincinnati Model Homes A VERY different experiment was tried in Cincinnati by Jacob Schmidlapp, founder of the Model Homes Co. Anxious to see how the negro would respond to a chance to secure decent housing at a reasonable rent, he started out with a group of flats of the greatest simplicity of construction and design.
This group has no cellars, the sinks were of iron with a wood frame; instead of a bathtub there was a laundry tray with a cold shower overhead and no hot-water system. Simple enough! But these flats rented at $9.75 a month for a 4-room flat and $7.60 for a 3-room flat, a rate low enough even in 1912, when the group was completed.
These were rented before they were completed, and the demand for them proved so keen that other groups were added, until by the end of 1917 accommodations had been provided for 240 colored families. The curtailment of private building which accompanied and followed the war affected the activities of the Model Homes Co. for colored and whites alike. In 1930, however, the company found that while the hard times were causing numerous vacancies in the houses occupied by white tenants, the colored people seemed as eager as ever for decent accommodations. Owing to vacancies the company lost heavily on some of the projects built for whites, but there was only one colored unit which made a poor showing, and in its case the losses were directly attributable to the fact that the houses were in an undesirable location.