Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Housing Crisis of 1920

The Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, Iowa), April 19, 1920
In the spring of 1920, thousands of families were ordered to vacate their homes during one of the worst housing crises in New York City history.

The combination of a severe housing shortage and immense population boom at the end of WWI led to waves of mass evictions for much of the city's working-class and working-poor population.

Motivated by a post-war interest in Manhattan real estate, unscrupulous landlords used loopholes in the housing laws in what surmounted to nothing less than class warfare; tenants were essentially extorted into paying over 25% more in rent or face eviction. Tens of thousands who could not pay were forced into homelessness.

The abandoned apartments were then rented for over four times the market value to "pleasure seekers" and people with "abundant war profits or earnings," according to a April 19, 1920 Telegraph-Herald (photo).

Over 73,000 families were registered as homeless by the Spring of 1920, many living in parks throughout the city in tents provided by the U.S. Army.