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In the 1980s 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 could be taught how to take charge of the buildings they lived in and address deteriorating conditions this would be a huge step towards preserving the fabric of neighborhoods across the City.

HPD and the Board of Education developed House sick? Try house sense!,a housing curriculum for the Citys public schools which was intended to help children understand how to keep good housing good and make poor housing better. By teaching the children, the City hoped that it could also instruct their parents on the ABCs of housing in order to help them improve their living conditions, their buildings and, ultimately, their neighborhoods.

The curriculum was first taught in PS 145 and JHS 54 (both in Manhattan) as part of a pilot program. CHPCs archives contain Volumes I and II of the second printing of House Sick? Try House Sense!from 1985 (the first printing was in 1981), which was used in more schools across the city. These volumes contain dozens of classroom materials and activities focusing on housing, including games, poems, songs and photographs as well as drawing, reading and writing exercises. Also included are extensive resources for teachers: from background information on New York City’s history and development to teaching objectives, lesson plans and grading rubrics. These different materials could be adapted for children in kindergarten through the ninth grade.

House sick? Try house sense! wasused in New York Citys public schools for several years but over time housing needs evolved, HPDs priorities shifted and the curriculum was no longer updated. Gradually the initiative faded away.

If we were to devise a housing curriculum for our public schools today it would surely look very different. What would you want to teach young children about housing in 2014?