Alfred Tredway White was a leading American housing reformer in the late 19th Century, who pioneered good quality, affordable housing, that would strengthen society as a whole while still profiting landlords. Born into a wealthy merchant family in Brooklyn in 1846, he was inspired to build quality housing for working families after helping with the settlement school program of the First Unitarian Church in Brooklyn Heights and witnessing the shockingly poor living conditions of the children.
Between 1876 and 1879, he built the Home and the Tower Buildings on Hicks Street at Baltic Street in Brooklyn, described as ‘model tenements’ by Jacob Riis. With their fireproof construction, private toilets, balconies and landscaped courtyards, they were considered the most advanced tenements of their age.
In addition, White developed an innovative business plan for the Home and the Tower Buildings to demonstrate to other developers that a profit could still be made from affordable housing.
The ‘Cobble Hill Towers’ remain in modern day Brooklyn having survived the development of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
Real estate firm Hudson Companies, whose principal is a CHPC Board Member, has recently entered into a joint venture with the owner of this historic property and has taken over property management responsibilities.
While continuing CHPC’s mammoth project to catalog and preserve its archival collection, we recently unearthed several key books and documents relating to Alfred T White and the Cobble Hill Towers.
The most remarkable discovery was a book that linked White’s work with many influential housing advocates in England at the time.
We uncovered a bound series of articles dated 1875, written by Octavia Hill, an eminent British housing reformer and philanthropist, titled ‘Homes of the London Poor’. It details her influential, hands-on approach to the development and management of housing for low income families in London, and is designed as an advice booklet for New York City.
The delightful Best Practice preface can be seen under the following link.
Specifically, Octavia Hill placed emphasis on the role of the landlord as a positive influence on the ‘moral behaviour of the tenants’. In return, landlords would receive rents on time and fewer vacancies and repairs.
The influence of Hill’s work can clearly be seen in White’s ‘Improved Dwellings for the Working Classes’ article from 1879, which discusses the Home and the Tower Buildings. The rules for its original tenants can also be seen in the following pages.
In addition, the Alfred T White documents that we have unearthed are proving to be useful to housing providers working in NYC today. Hudson Companies is currently using the CHPC archives to research the original floor plans and renderings of the Cobble Hill Towers.
Download a pdf of the full report here.