Housing on the Ballot

The 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. Photo: Library of Congress
The 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. Photo: Library of Congress

As we plunge into the final day of the 2016 presidential race, CHPC decided to look back into our archives for some grounding and perspective. Our curiosity led us to the fall of 1964, which was headlined by the landslide re-election of President Lyndon B. Johnson over the challenge of Barry Goldwater.

At the local level, New York City was in the early stages of the depopulation and decay that marked the city a decade later. John V. Lindsay, a liberal Republican, was running for what would be the first of two terms as mayor.

CHPC helped organize an “Emergency Committee for More Low-Rent Housing” to shine a light on the housing issues that faced the city at the time.

Most pressing was Proposition 1, a state-wide referendum on issuing bonds to finance the construction of low-income housing. In a memorandum released two weeks before the election, “Proposition #1 would authorize the State to borrow $165 million through the sale of bonds over a 3-year period and would increase the annual subsidies for the program by $7.5 million.” In fact, an earlier letter directly to political candidates points out that “This three-year program will provide funds for the construction of approximately 8,000 apartments.”

The Committee’s memo, dated October 17, 1964, makes the case for supporting more public housing: “In New York City alone, almost 100,000 families applied for low-rent public housing last year.” This echoed the June letter to candidates, which said, “In 1963, only one family out of every ten [emphasis original] who applied for low-rent public housing was accommodated.” Those figure now seems laughably low, as any given lottery for subsidized apartments in the city can attract nearly that number of applications, and the waitlist for public housing is closed. The memo continued, “This need…can only be met by additional and massive Federal, State, and local action to increase the supply of decent housing in well-planned, well-serviced neighborhoods.”

As part of its campaign, the Committee conducted a poll of political candidates running for local, state, and federal office from Manhattan and the Bronx that year. “Of the 60 candidates in Manhattan from the three major parties,” the Liberal Party being the third,” 47 responded to the poll, and all the responses expressed support of Proposition #1.”

In the Bronx, “Proposition #1 received equally broad endorsement, with 41 of the 59 major party candidates” favoring the ballot item. “The only opposition to the Proposition came from the Conservative Party candidates. In the Bronx all seven of the Conservative candidates responding to the poll voiced opposition to the Housing Proposal”

Proposition #1 failed, to the tune of 60% to 40% against. The voters of New York State did approve a second referendum that year, though, which amended state regulations about takings and legislative salaries, among other items.

You can read the June 1964 letter to candidates here and the October memo here.

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