Abraham Goldfeld.

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C H 1C A G O






FOR some time past nearly everyone interested in public or
publicly assisted large-scale housing has been saying that its
success or failure will depend largely upon how it is managed.
Relatively little has been done, however, to define clearly the func-
tions and responsibilities of managers, the qualities and experience
they should possess, the special preparation, if any, they should
undergo, or their relation to other parts of a moving housing pro-
gram. In its first management training course NAHO has made a start
on these problems but much remains to be done. Organizations of
non-officials, I am sure, would also admit that they have more ques-
tions than answers on the really important phases of housing manage-

As its title suggests, in this book Mr. Goldfeld has not tried to give
a systematic answer to these questions. It is an abridged edition of the
diary he kept during the earlier days of his work as manager of the
Lavanburg Homes on the lower east side of New York with edi-
torial comments by the diarist, himself, as he looked back upon the
written record after several years of successful management ex-
perience. It was originally revised for the NAHO management
training course in which Mr. Goldfeld was an instructor, but its
character seemed to justify a wider audience.

Although the diary is a strongly personal document, both in the
sense of emphasizing those phases of management in which Mr.
Goldfeld is himself most keenly interested and in the sense of deal-
ing with those problems that actually arose in this one development,
I believe it is a genuine contribution to the literature of this pro-
fession in the making. It is specific and concrete. It shows how
background in certain phases of the job has to be supplemented by
common sense and native ability in others. It emphasizes the fact that
the really crucial problems of housing management lie in the human
relations between the tenants and the manager and among the tenants
themselves. Although naturally it has relatively little to say about
the problems of maintaining and operating the physical plant, it does
make very clear that these problems cannot be divorced from those
of tenant relations without causing an unending series of troubles.


vi Foreword

I believe that NAHO's gratitude to Mr. Goldfeld will be shared
by those who read this booklet. Its publication is sponsored by
NAHO's Committee on Housing Management.


Director, NAHO


DIARIES are ordinarily kept by individuals to record the daily
incidents of their lives. By and large they are not regarded
as important documents because they are filled with the
commonplace events that go to make up a person's day, important
perhaps to the diarist, but uninteresting to others.

Diaries are maintained by people in a variety of fields: thus, every
ship's captain keeps a daily log; military heads submit daily records
to their superiors; high executive officials file day-by-day reports.
These daily accounts are necessary to build a permanent store of
information and to help in fixing responsibilities. In the field of
social welfare, a form similar to the diary has been developed as a
tool of research and has usefully served the needs of both students and

The Diary of a Housing Manager does not comply with any
definite set of rules in regard to its form. It is offered primarily for
the information on one type of housing management which it con-
tains. Information on housing management, unfortunately, is meager.
The experience in European countries is not always readily available
in English, while that of the United States has been for the most part
gained by private commercial enterprises and is not recorded in any
easily accessible form. Any material on housing management, there-
fore, becomes a desirable contribution to students of the subject.

In the conduct of a large-scale apartment or low-rent housing
projects, management assumes a vital role. Once a house is built
and tenants move in, an organism has been created whose development
thereafter depends mainly upon good management. Day by day
many problems involving both the physical building and its inhabit-
ants arise. These problems are unpredictable. They emerge un-
expectedly, and they are insistent in their demand for a quick,
intelligent answer. To supply such answers is the job of the housing
manager. The effectiveness of his answers will depend upon his
ingenuity, his resourcefulness, his understanding of people. Expe-
rience will help him. Pertinent information obtained from others will
also aid him in the solution of his problems.

This diary was commenced with no other purpose than to record


viii Preface

daily events which were related to the manager's job at the Lavanburg
Homes, a large-scale, low-rent model housing project conceived and
instituted by Fred L. Lavanburg, a New York industrialist and
philanthropist. The first entry in the diary was made on the manager's
first day at the project. Thereafter, daily entries were recorded for
a period of ten years.

In editing the diary with a view to its serving as a source book
of housing information, it was found expedient to eliminate much of
the material covered during the ten years in order to omit the
inconsequential events and avoid repetition. The entries of the events
of only the first two years are taken verbatim from the original
records just as they were written at the time of their occurrence, and
of these events only the most significant are selected. The subsequent
eight years are summarized so that the reader may obtain a complete
picture of the manager's ten years at the Lavanburg Homes.

To carry out the purpose of constructing a useful source book
of management information, the writer has appended to various
diary entries brief critical comments. These were added while editing
the work for publication to explain the events described in the diary.
They will also round out the incidents, evaluate "spot" decisions,
and pass more mature judgments upon the day-by-day thinking.

No attempt has been made to give the diary a literary style or
manner. The informal method of diary keeping is maintained to give
the reader the feeling of participation in the daily life at the Lavan-
burg project.

In order that no one may be identified, the names of tenants have
been changed. A few situations have also been altered to avoid any
possible embarrassment to tenants who still live at the Homes.

The writer wishes to make acknowledgments to those who di-
rectly or indirectly aided him in preparing this book for publication.
He is greatly indebted to Walter W. Pettit, Assistant Director of the
New York School of Social Work, who first taught and developed
in him an appreciation of the diary form as a useful method in re-
search; to Arthur Bohnen for valuable criticism; to Beatrice B.
Schalet and Jacob E. Schwab for assistance in editing the diary for

New York, N. Y.
November, 1937



Page i

THE DIARY, 1927-1930

Page 5


PERIOD 193 1-1937

Page 103

The Diary
of a Housing Manager


MANY years ago Mr. Lavanburg became disturbed over the
fact that housing facilities provided by profit-making cor-
porations were not supplying the needs of the low-income
working men and women. Shortly after the war, while on a trip
abroad, he visited both municipally- and privately-aided housing
projects in London and Paris. Influenced by what he saw he con-
ceived the idea of endowing a large-scale low-rent model housing
project in New York City, hoping that his action would stimulate
similar projects by private individuals as well as by municipal au-

To carry forward his plan he formed the Fred L. Lavanburg
Foundation, invited a group of distinguished citizens to serve on the
board of directors, and communicated with various social service and
building agencies in order to benefit from their experience and ad-
vice. Architects were engaged and plans were drawn.

On January 26, 1927, at the City Club of New York City, a meet-
ing of a special advisory committee was held to discuss policy.
Among those attending were Benjamin Tuska, Alexander M. Bing,
Boyden Sparkes, and Arthur Somers, all members of the Foundation's
board of directors; W. C. Sommerfeld, the architect; Clarence Stein,
the consulting architect; Clarence H. Holmes, president of the City
& Suburban Homes Company; Lee L. Hanmer and Clarence A. Perry
of the Russell Sage Foundation; and Miss Lillian D. Wald, head
worker, Henry Street Settlement.

2 The Diary of a Housing Manager

Rentals was the chief subject of their discussion. Mr. Bing arrived
at an estimated rental per room in the following manner:

Even if it is decided that there shall be no return on the capital
invested, the maintenance of the buildings will involve certain
disbursements for which rents will have to be charged. These
disbursements can be roughly estimated as follows:

Per Room
Per Month
Maintenance (Heat, hall lighting, janitor's wages,

repairs, insurance, etc.) $3. 50 to $4.00

Taxes on Land i.oo

Taxes on Building 1.60

Depreciation 1.60

It will, therefore, be seen that if there is no tax
exemption, and if it is desired to accumulate a
fund with which these buildings can be replaced
when they have completely outlived their use-
fulness, but if no other income on investment
is desired, it will be necessary to charge a rent per
room per month of $7.70 to $8.20

His estimate, of course, did not make allowances for the cost of
community activities, and it proved to be surprisingly accurate. Our
present average rent per room per month is about $7.00, made pos-
sible by complete tax exemption.

However, the consensus of the meeting was that it would not be
practicable to base rental on a cost figure, at least for the first year,
until the cost of operation and other uncertain factors could be de-
termined by actual experience. The committee also suggested that
provision be made for carrying desirable tenants who might become
in arrears. Their precautions were well founded. Even though it
was decided to operate on a cost basis, the Foundation later made
allowances for tenants who for good reason could not continue pay-
ing the original rent.

Various suggestions were made concerning the facilities for com-
munity activities in the building. A roof playground was first pro-
posed. Representatives of the City and Suburban Homes expressed
the opinion that a roof playground was not desirable because of the
noise and discomfort created by children running through the hall-
ways. This opinion was concurred in by the representatives of the
Russell Sage Foundation and by Miss Wald.

The Beginnings of the Lavanburg Homes 3

Separate boys' and girls' recreation rooms and a meeting hall
for the tenants, to be located in the basement, were recommended.
The need for proper recreational supervision was stressed, the com-
mittee also emphasizing the desirability of a layout that would
simplify the problem of supervision.

Playgrounds in the courts were not endorsed, the committee be-
lieving that the noise would disturb the tenants. A basement laundry
was considered inadvisable. Mr. Holmes explained that the laundries
in his buildings were gradually being removed, as tenants preferred
to launder clothes in their apartments. A nurse's office and first aid
room were also disapproved because a number of health agencies
existed in the vicinity. A day nursery in the building was held im-
practicable because of the expense and supervisory difficulties in-

The selection of tenants was briefly discussed. The committee
thought it undesirable to have the building recognized as one for
dependent people; the charitable feature of the undertaking was,
therefore, to be stressed as little as possible. It was agreed, however,
that people in fairly good financial position should not be accepted
as tenants.

Subsequently the board of directors met to consider the com-
mittee's suggestions. It decided in favor of a roof playground, a
meeting hall for the tenants, and recreation rooms for the children.

In March, 1927, the Fred L. Lavanburg Foundation was incor-
porated under the laws of the State of New York,

to .... provide and to further the movement to provide sani-
tary housing accommodations at low rentals for persons of small
income, primarily those living in New York City and vicinity
who are unable to obtain within their means proper, sanitary
housing. The Corporation, as a means to such end, may engage
in research or publication; .... (and) may employ any other
means or agencies which from time to time shall to the Corpora-
tion seem expedient.

The site which Mr. Lavanburg acquired was in the Lower East
Side at 124-142 Goerck Street. This was one of the most notorious
slum neighborhoods in New York City. Mr. Lavanburg hoped the
influence of his model tenement house would improve the character
of its surroundings.

In May, 1927, the general building contract was awarded to the

4 The Diary of a Housing Manager

Fredburn Construction Company. The structure designed was a six-
story walk-up, of semi-fireproof construction. The plans called for
an E-shaped apartment house, made of Holland brick, containing
113 apartments, of which 51 were to have three rooms, 48 four
rooms, and 14 five rooms.
The average dimensions of the rooms were:

Living rooms io'4"xi5'

Bed rooms 9' x 12'

Kitchens 7' xn'

Bath rooms 4'8" x 8'

The equipment specified included all modern conveniences such
as steam heat, hot water, electricity, dumb-waiters, ample closets,
and hardwood floors. The kitchens were to contain two porcelain
stationary tubs, a porcelain sink, a gas range, electric outlets, a com-
bination ice box, kitchen closets, shelves, an overhead dryer, and a
compartment for garbage cans. The bathrooms were to be tiled and
equipped with built-in tubs, showers, and medicine cabinets. Other
features of the house were brass plumbing and cross ventilation in
every apartment.

A large playground was planned on the roof, to be surrounded by
a parapet of good height. To protect the lower apartments from
the noise of the playground, the roof was to be constructed of tile
over steel beams and concrete arches.

In June, 1927, while the building was under construction, the
diary was begun.

II. THE DIARY, 1927-1930

JUNE I, 1927

MY FIRST day as Manager of the Lavanburg Homes. Spent
it looking over the hundreds of applications already re-
ceived. The number of them at this early date amazes me
it will be months before the building is ready. Noticed the great bulk
are from residents of the Lower East Side and only a very few from
the Bronx and Brooklyn. Thought of the best way to make a per-
sonal visit to the homes of all eligible applicants in my limited time.
Decided to draw a map of the Lower East Side, note the location
of every family. Using this as a guide, I shall be able to interview
several families living in the same neighborhood during each trip.

[This plan was a great time-saver, enabling me to complete the
large number of interviews in a relatively short period of time.]

JUNE 2, 1927

Down on Goerck Street to watch construction. Found the activity
interesting. Planning to make a number of trips before the building
is finished to learn as much as I can about it. Looked over the plans
and was surprised to see no provision for office. The construction
supervisor promised to call this to the attention of the architect.

[A three-room apartment on the first floor was turned into an
office and living quarters for me. This arrangement provided but
one small room for my assistant and me. We felt crowded and
I also deplored the absence of privacy for discussing personal
matters with the tenants. Eventually, the entire apartment was
converted into an office, and I was given another three-room
apartment for my living quarters.]

JUNE 6, 1927

News of the construction of the building is spreading and people
come to Mr. Lavanburg's office in person for application blanks.

Discussed with Mr. Lavanburg the general plans for house activi-
ties. Glad to find him of the opinion it would be best to forego defi-
nite plans until the house is occupied and the tenants can be con-
sulted. He is eager to have various community activities take place


6 The Diary of a Housing Manager

in the building and remarked, "That is why I want you to be the

[I first met Mr. Lavanburg in 1926, while working at Federation
Settlement, a community center serving a thickly populated
area in New York City. At this institution I organized and ex-
perienced activities and programs for both adults and children.
My background and training helped me later, when social ac-
tivities of an extensive nature developed at the Lavanburg

JUNE 8, 1927

Interviewed twelve families today. Several of them asked if they
might take in boarders. Took this up with Mr. Bing of our board
who ruled against it because of eventual overcrowding. He frowned
upon any idea to use the apartments for profit-making.

JUNE 10, 1927

Have worked out with Mr. Lavanburg a few simple principles for
making final selections of tenants:

1. Will not consider families whose income permits them to
pay a higher rent. In determining what constitutes income
proportionate to the rent and size of family, will consult the
budgets of the Jewish Social Service Association. [Mr. Lavan-
burg later told me, after he had consulted with Mr. Bing,
that the rental had been set at $7.50 per week for three rooms,
$8.50 for four and $10.50 for five. Owing to the disadvantages
of the fifth- and sixth-floor apartments (building is a walk-
up), a 25 cent per week reduction was made for the fifth
floor and 50 cents per week for the sixth. This averages about
$9.50 a room a month for the whole house. The cheapest
rental for its equal at this time was $ 1 7 or $ 1 8 a room a month.
On the East Side, in the slum tenements, rooms averaged
around $6 per month. Many people who could afford to pay
$9 or $10 were compelled to remain in the slum district be-
cause they could not pay $18.]

2. Will accept only families with children. Those with younger
children will be given preference for the reason that social
and educational activities should be approached from the
preventive point of view, which is most effective with young
children. In families where children are grown and presum-

The Diary 1927-1930 7

ably working, the combined income is likely to be large
enough to pay a higher rental elsewhere without hardship.

3. Families having decent living quarters at the time of appli-
cation will not be eligible.

4. No families will be considered which in their present homes
are not maintaining standards of cleanliness and decency such
as would indicate reasonable use of new facilities. [I later de-
cided to try the experiment of accepting about 10 per cent
of the tenants from those whose homes I found ill kept. I
wanted to see what effect the new environment would have
on them. Some years later, I was interested to observe that
of the four families living at Lavanburg who persistently did
not maintain decent standards, only two were from this

5. In order to maintain acceptable standards of non-crowding,
will assign apartments according to the size of the family
as follows:

3 or 4 persons 3 rooms

5 or 6 persons 4 rooms

7 or 8 persons 5 rooms

No more than 2 adults in each apartment

6. When deciding on which floor to assign each family, will
take into account the health condition of its members, such
as cardiac diseases, high blood pressure, pregnancy, and so on.
It will not be feasible to consider tenants' personal preferences.

JUNE 12, 1927

Today was exceptionally hot. In some of the tenement houses, the
combination of littered garbage and airless stairways created a stench
that was stifling. I now understand better why many women be-
come emotional, even bursting into tears, when they tell me how
much new bright rooms would mean to them and to their families.

JUNE 15, 1927

Had a most valuable talk with Dr. Merrick of the West Side
Settlement House today. He is a social worker of great reputation.
I found he had given much thought to the type of house we are
building. To him this project presented a great opportunity to serve
people who are normal instead of families who are "cases." He

8 The Diary of a Housing Manager

thought that the idea of teaching people to use modern housing
facilities was very important, and that our experiences might stim-
ulate the development of similar projects for which there is such
dire need. He urged that I approach the parents through their
children, saying, "If the parents think the Manager is fond of their
children and is interested in their welfare, they will be much more
willing to accept restrictions."

Dr. Merrick also suggested weekly rentals. Such an arrangement,
he indicated, would work out better for both tenant and project.
First, because the tenant is usually paid weekly and it is easier for
him to budget his rent on the same basis; and second, if for any
reason the tenant is unable to pay, the Manager learns of it quickly
and can take whatever steps seem necessary.

[Dr. Merrick's two recommendations were successfully adopted.
Approach to the parents through the children is always stressed;
and rents are paid weekly.]

JUNE 20, 1927

Called on scattered families in Brooklyn. Find that such calls re-
quire much time and frequently the family is not at home. Will try
sending printed application blanks with specific questions. If the
information returned meets the requirements, the family will be
visited in due course.

[This procedure was eventually used in all instances where
letters of application were received, and it saved much time.]

JUNE 25, 1927

On my visits to the East Side people frequently stop me to inquire
anxiously about the fate of their applications. Three young women
stepped up to me today to ask the usual question. Of course there
was nothing I could tell them, and one, becoming impatient, ex-
claimed, "I bet if only I knew Mr. X. we'd be sure to get in!" Mr.
X. is a powerful political figure in this section. Apparently these
people have great faith in political "pull." I told the woman that
her remark would be held against her when considering her applica-
tion. I thought this would be a good way to let people know that
favors from politicians had nothing to do with the selection of

The Diary 1927-1 $30 9

JUNE 27, 1927

Received letter from the Jewish Social Service Association ex-
pressing interest in the Foundation. Will contact this organization
to establish a relationship of mutual cooperation. It will be a good
plan, while interviewing people in the neighborhood of Goerck
Street, to visit all local social service agencies. I want to know what
services are available here, and also to acquaint these agencies of
what is planned at the new project.

JULY 2, 1927

A terribly hot day. Climbed to several sixth-floor flats to find no
one at home. Neighbors helpfully informed me that the families
left for Coney Island early in the morning to spend the entire day
there. They eagerly ask if I have any message to leave. . . .

JULY 1 8, 1927

Saw Miss Rifkin of the Jewish Social Service Association. We
agreed that cooperation between the two agencies would be help-
ful to both. Made the suggestion to Miss R. that she recommend
to us several of her permanent clients. She assured me she would do
so, and seemed pleased with the possibility of having several of her
families living at the Lavanburg Homes.

[Managers of projects like the Lavanburg Homes are often
called upon to deal with individual and family situations.
They must deal with the child unable to make adequate group
adjustment; with families not qualified by one reason or an-

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Online LibraryAbraham GoldfeldThe diary of a housing manager → online text (page 1 of 11)