British Experience

Where the same population returns to the new houses, carefuly kept vital and social statistics, before and after, show the extent, in a few years' time, to which health and behavior have improved under better environment. Liverpool statistics have shown this in the past with special clarity. Death rates and sickness rates are cut in two and anti-social behavior, as indicated by arrests, even more strikingly reduced. As a recent Glasgow report expresses it, 90 per cent of the families react to their new surroundings in a satisfactory manner.

Viewing clearance schemes as health measures, they undoubtedly save the taxpayers more in hospitals, asylums, reformatories and relief than they cost. And the amount of that cost is often exaggerated.

Take London. It had carried out before the war 35 slum clearance schemes, involving 97 1/2 acres, displacing and re-housing 46,000 persons, at a total net cost to the taxpayers of 2,393,000. For the 23 post-war schemes, involving a similar global area (98 acres), but displacing only about 28,500 people, the cost of acquisition, clearance and road work is estimated at 1,259,250. The re-housing operations will involve some subsidy, which was not the case before the war, but the National Government will share the burden with the London County Council. Altogether, for a measure which halves the sickness and death rates of the population immediately affected, and which reduces those of surrounding areas by lessening the number of infection centers, it cannot be considered excessively costly.

Decentralization And Re-Housing

Ideally, a large slum clearance scheme could be linked with a decentralization scheme to their great mutual advantage. In practice, it has never, so far, been done. If the industries employing part of the residents in a slum section were moved to a satellite garden town offering good housing to the workers, many more would follow if they were being simultaneously dispossessed at home than if it was all pull and no push. Those remaining on the site could be better housed than would otherwise be possible, and surplus land could be sold for business or other purposes, reducing, if not wiping out, the cost of the improvement to the taxpayers. In addition to which, the transplanted families would be far better off than if they had remained.

No instance of slum clearance with re-housing has yet occurred in the United States. Minor slum clearance may be said to have taken place where a small park or playground has been established as much for the sake of getting rid of bad houses and bad layout as of obtaining the breathing space. Cases in point were Mulberry Bend Park in New York, Willow Tree Alley in Washington, Morton Street in Boston and Hell's Half Acre in Philadelphia.

New York's Projects

In recent years New York has been fairly seething with projects for getting rid of its slums, but few of them have had much connection with city plans. The important provisions of the State Housing Act of 1926 deal with problems of finance - limited-dividend housing companies, limited rentals and tax exemption - and with compulsory acquisition of slum property.1 The Heckscher-Walker scheme involved the use of excess condemnation for the city to acquire slum areas in connection with street-widening projects.

In the spring of 1928 the United Neighborhood Houses of New York adopted a report, prepared by their Advisory Housing Committee, which proclaimed, among other things, that:

A permanent City Plan Commission should be established, with a mandate to consider housing as one of its major problems.....Slum clearance should be included in the city plan and carried out gradually like any other large improvement project. It is vastly more important than the elimination of grade crossings, for instance, though the lives sacrified by bad housing are not quite so easy to count.

About the same time, June, 1928, appeared the report of the Subcommittee on Housing (Lawrence Veiller, Chairman), of the vast Committee on Plan and Survey appointed by Mayor Walker, which had this to say:

The one phase of housing that has had the least attention in this city and the one that is perhaps most urgently needed is that of slum clearance. Before doing anything, the location and extent of the areas it is desired to clear should be determined. These will be found not limited to the East Side nor even to the borough of Manhattan.....Whatever is done should be closely related to a comprehensive city plan.....In some cases the cleared areas can be best devoted to permanent open spaces - to small parks and playgrounds; in others, public buildings. In others, such cleared spaces may be best utilized for increased traffic facilities, for new streets and street widening.....One thing is certain.

If slum clearance is to be carried out, it should be in orderly and intelligent fashion. It cannot be done as an incident to street improvement, as now contemplated . . . . though excess-condemnation powers can be utilized. Areas should be cleared only after a "finding" by the duly constituted authorities that either (a) the area is an insanitary area, or (b) that the public interests require its demolition. A special "authority" should be constituted for the purpose, if slum clearance is to be done on a large scale.....Maps should be prepared showing the property to be taken, and property owners affected, as well as other citizens, should be given their day in court with opportunity to object and to state their views.....The special authority should also determine whether to sell off, or lease, part of the land acquired, to be used in new housing and on what terms. It would also determine to what extent the cost of the scheme should be borne, in part, by assessment for benefit on property benefited and the extent of the area of benefit. Specific powers should be obtained from the Legislature to enable the city to undertake slum clearance schemes.

1 See "Better Housing for New York's Wage-Earners," by George Gove, in American City, May, 1929, p. 164.

All of which are words of wisdom, which will, we hope, be heeded. But let us take heed also of the half-century's experience in slum clearance available for our study across the water. And let us recognize from the start that slum clearance will fail of attaining its principal objects - better health and better homes - if it does not provide new accommodations for those whom it displaces, and at rentals they are able to pay. This cannot be done on the basis of private enterprise for commercial profit, but .... it ought to be possible to do it without subsidy. If not, our people might still be wise to tax themselves for good housing instead of for hospitals and jails.