Over one million index sized cards from the early 1900’s are still filed away in the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s borough offices. The cards carefully document, apartment by apartment, observations from the City’s earliest code inspectors at the Tenement House Department (1901-1937).

Known as the I-Cards, they provide a detailed and fascinating look at the conditions that people lived in at the turn of the 20th Century. Yet the meaning and purpose of the I-Cards had, until now, been all but lost to generations of city workers. Some believed they were “Information” cards, others that they represented what the inspectors could observe by “eye.”

A look into CHPC’s archival library, however, explains clearly the purpose of the I-Cards, including what the “I” actually stood for. They were “Improvement” cards which indicated what structural improvements buildings required in order to meet the standards of the Tenement House Act of 1901.

The new act was an innovative public policy that mandated modern standards of habitability and sanitation while also providing a clear method of enforcement through the newly established Tenement House Department.

The practices and experiences of this new city agency were extensively, and with great detail, described in the department’s first annual report which covered the years 1902-1903. Its two volumes are notable for their detail, clarity, openness, extensive data analysis and lovely prose, rarely seen in more modern government reports.

Click here to download the full PDF.

Note: HPD has digitized its I-Card collection, accessible from their website.