Gems from the Archives
CHPC would like to thank the Dickler Family Foundation for its leadership support of the preservation of our archive. We are also indebted to the Documentary Heritage Program at the New York State archives for its grant support in 2012. This has allowed us to re-arrange, re-house, and describe our entire collection and opened up these valuable records for the first time.
Over the last 70 years, CHPC has amassed a vast and unparalleled archive of primary source documents. Each month we profile a new discovery from our collection.
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Justifying tax exemptions for housing—in 1933
Lincoln Square undergoing slum clearance
As we edge closer to the expiration of New York State laws that create the 421-a tax incentive for housing, the debate about its reform—and indeed, its fundamental merit—has heated up. As always, contemporary debates are a wonderful chance for CHPC to dive back into its archives for relevant wisdom.
This week we’ve unearthed a pair of gems that explore the same debate: whether government should spend a valuable resource to build housing. But these documents—one an explainer, the other a fully impassioned argument—despite their close parallels with the 421-a debate, …Read more
Weighing The Merits Of Building Tall
Fort Greene in the 1950s. Image: Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times
Rezoning and density are words that kindle very different emotions and reactions—from excitement and curiosity to fear and anger. The current proposed changes to New York City’s zoning code have sparked all of those amidst growing debate.
In this edition of Gems from the Archives, we explore some interesting and prescient dialogue about the urban environment. We have touched on the issues of zoning and planning in other Gems posts—as in the creation of new neighborhoods like Battery Park City and anti-development organizing around Washington Square …Read more
Building Housing Over the Tracks
The New York City planning and development world received a jolt of energy in Feburary, when Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered his State of the City address. He announced his intention to redevelop the Sunnyside railyard in western Queens, a 200-acre site, with housing and neighborhood amenities. This announcement quickly met some doubt both from Albany and from various pundits around the city. A complicated mix of layout, soil composition, and land ownership issues will combine to make Sunnyside a difficult project.
But Sunnyside will not be the first place in the city where existing railroad infrastructure makes …Read more
Remembering Mario Cuomo and Forest Hills
Photo credit Richard Kalvar/Magnum
CHPC remembers the late former Governor Mario Cuomo as a true servant of the public. To that end we delved into our archives to uncover the work that propelled him into public life.
In the late 1960s, Cuomo, a lawyer from Queens, became involved with a group of Corona residents who resisted a city proposal that would have displaced them in order to build a high school. From that experience, Cuomo was asked by Mayor John Lindsay to analyze the turmoil that resulted from a subsequent proposal to build low-income housing alongside the Long Island …Read more
Affordable Housing Trust Funds Past and Present
Former NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller
This week brought news that the two government housing giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, would begin contributing to a fund dedicated to affordable housing. As Bloomberg reports, this pot of money, known as the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund, has existed since Congress created it in 2008—but has lain empty ever since.
Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt announced that the financial condition of Fannie and Freddie, which kept them from contributing, has improved. The decision to start contributing to the fund has been welcomed and panned by Democrat and Republican elected …Read more
Recognizing the Importance of Community Parks
Mayor Bill de Blasio announces new NYC parks program
In October, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a “Community Parks Initiative” that recognizes the importance of the parks beyond Central Park or Prospect Park, where a couple basketball or handball courts serve as community magnets. The first phase of the plan, dubbed NYC Parks: Framework for an Equitable Future, will invest $130 million in capital funds to refurbish existing parks around the city. The plan has come in for criticism that it doesn’t go far enough.
Of course, this is not the first time New York’s …Read more
Creating New Neighborhoods in NYC
The landfill set to become Battery Park City.
This week the NYC Department of City Planning announced a study that will help forge a new neighborhood in the Bronx. This followed on the heels of an op-ed by Charles Urstadt arguing in favor of filling in the Harlem River to create new land area. CHPC went into its archives in search of some precedent for this daunting—and for some, mouth-watering—urban planning challenge.
Just two months after humankind first walked on the moon, the master plan for an entirely new New York City neighborhood was published. The Battery …Read more
A housing curriculum for public schools
Click on image to expand
In the 1980’s housing in New York City was, in many ways, sick. Tens of thousands of units had been abandoned, New York City was still near the brink of bankruptcy and the federal government was backing away from its historical commitment to housing. HPD was a relatively new agency at the time and it had few tools in its toolbox to tackle the huge housing problems it faced. The agency, however, had a philosophical underpinning that healthy buildings made healthy neighborhoods and its staff had the creativity to experiment with new ideas. If tenants …Read more
Remembering the Koch Housing Plan
On May 3 Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his ten-year Housing New York plan. It follows in the tradition of the housing plans that preceded it: broad in scope, ambitious in goals. Indeed, in her keynote speech at CHPC’s annual luncheon the prior week, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen drew on the great housing reforms of New York City’s going back to the early 20th Century.
With that historical perspective in mind, we dive into our archives to find the 1985 State of the City speech in which Mayor Ed Koch announced his own housing initiatives. It was the first …Read more
The 1951 Slum Clearance Plan for Lenox Terrace
Our archives contain original copies of over one dozen slum clearance plans proposed in the 1950’s by the Committee on Slum Clearance Plans, whose Chairman was Robert Moses. These plans were proposed following the passage of the National Housing Act of 1949, which provided that areas with “slum conditions” could be seized, cleared and made available to private parties for redevelopment. Cleared land could be sold at a loss to induce developers to redevelop the sites, with the federal government taking two-thirds of the loss and local government one-third.
These plans contain detailed descriptions of slum conditions and photographs …Read more
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