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other to take care of their own health problems; with the grow-
ing boy or girl who desires to learn a particular trade; with
parents unable to cope with a delinquent child; with families
threatened with disintegration. Problems of this character the
manager need not try to solve by himself; it were better for him
to be familiar with the many community resources and social
agencies equipped to handle these situations. With this knowl-
edge he is always ready to make proper "referrals" once an un-
usual situation arises, and bring immediate assistance to his
tenants. ]

JULY 27, 1927

Walked into the filthiest flat thus far visited. I have never seen
such dirt and disorder. An unmade folding-bed in the living-room

i o The Diary of a Housing Manager

was littered with soiled clothing, newspapers, and magazines. Bed-
ding lay on the floor where it had fallen. Cast-ofT clothing, shoes,
cartons, and dirty dishes cluttered the chairs or were piled high in
every corner. The young fellow who received me made no effort
to clean a chair or to excuse the state of the room. During our con-
versation, I noticed he was wearing a university key. He told me
he is a junior at New York University. Evidently his college en-
vironment has had no effect upon his home life.

On the other hand, among the hundred families already visited
were many that kept their homes scrupulously clean. Sometimes I
would find stairways so littered with refuse that I could pick my
way only with difficulty, and then I would step into a flat clean
and sparkling. In these surroundings, which lacked the most com-
mon modern home conveniences, such efficient housekeeping is
no mean feat. I found living in the slum, as everywhere, all types
of people. Some are clean and some dirty; some intelligent, others
subnormal. Most do not take their living conditions passively and
show an aggressive attitude in their efforts to better them, particu-
larly "for the sake of the children." As yet there is no crystalization
of their strong wish for better housing. All of their efforts are
directed toward making more money to take fuller advantage of
what is at present available.

[In the last few years, the younger men and women have be-
come active in their efforts to get decent housing. The Lower
East Side Public Housing Conference is one of the organiza-
tions in the neighborhood which is organizing the consumer to
demand better quarters. It aims to enforce New York City build-
ing regulations and secure new government subsidized housing. ]

AUGUST 2, 1927

Visited Black Neighborhood House, located two blocks from the
Homes. Was asked many questions about the Foundation. There
seems to be much curiosity about it in professional circles. The
Settlement House is quite large, but there is nothing inviting about
it. The personnel appears to lack enthusiasm and a drab air pervades
the institution. They do have a pre-school kindergarten which I
found very interesting. I was told it would be possible to arrange to
have the children of the Lavanburg project use their "gym," as
physical limitations prevent our planning for one.

The Diary 19271930 1 1

AUGUST 14, 1927

Mr. Lavanburg took the architect and me to inspect several apart-
ment houses. We were especially interested to see the finishes of
various hallways.

Mr. Lavanburg takes great personal interest in all of these details.
Every day, on his way to his office, he stops off to look over the
progress of the building. He is an exceptionally large man and the
crowd which always gathers about us easily recognizes him. His
attitude is very friendly, especially to the children, and they as well
as the adults do not hesitate to talk to him.

[Years later Mr. Lavanburg became a legendary figure in the
neighborhood, and many were the tales told of him, his gen-
erosity, and his friendliness.]

AUGUST 23, 1927

Rained steadily yesterday and today and I have been taking life
easy. Planned a printed card which I shall use to notify people no
longer being considered so that they can look for other apartments.
Of course, the card will not state the real reason for not including
the applicant on our waiting list. It is hard to tell a man he is not a
suitable tenant because his wife keeps a filthy home or because he
earns too much money.

AUGUST 28, 1927

Made the first calls on employers to check financial information
given by applicants. Plan to visit or write all concerns employing
qualifying heads of families to ascertain whether the income and
vocation are as stated.

Sent list of 'names to the Social Service Exchange to find out
whether any of the families are known to the social service agencies.
Will follow up the slips returned by the Exchange to get a record
of the contact.


Have come to know more people in the neighborhood, such as the
staff of the local library and the police sergeant of this precinct.
The sergeant is very derisive of the idea of a first-class apartment
house on Goerck Street. He bet me a dinner that the tenants would
be throwing garbage out of the windows (as is a daily occurrence

1 2 The Diary of a Housing Manager

here) before the building had been occupied even six months.

[Months later, I went to the station to collect my bet. Un-
fortunately, the sergeant had been transferred to another pre-
cinct. ]

SEPTEMBER 19, 1927

A truck driver clambered down from his seat today to have a
few words with me about the notice he had just received. "Say,
mister," said he, "they tell me I can't get in because I make $45 and
only got one kid? So if I made $30 and had two kids you'd want
me maybe? A fine thing! Nowadays a fellow should not make
so much and have lots of kids to get a decent place to live in!"

But I had just come from a home painfully bare and clean. Nine
were in the family. One was a cripple and some of the others were
visibly undernourished. The father makes about $18 a week peddling
umbrellas. How can he possibly pay our rent of $10.50 a week for a
five-room apartment? Yet he is surely entitled to better living
quarters. I have a feeling of hopelessness when I realize that our
project will benefit so few among the many who need better housing.

[Mr. Lavanburg had hoped that his example would inspire other
men of means to invest their money at no interest or at a very
nominal interest for low rent housing. My experience at the
Homes has proved to me conclusively that without govern-
ment participation in heavily subsidized housing, the tenement
dweller will have to go on living, as he nearly always does, in
filthy, insanitary, below-standard houses.]

SEPTEMBER 25, 1927

Attended a meeting of the East Side Community Council, an
organization of all the local social agencies. Was introduced as a
neophyte and asked to say a few words about the Lavanburg Homes.

Have often wondered why the building does not include the north
and south corners and completely cover the block on which it stands.
Asked Mr. Lavanburg about this and he explained that the two
owners held out for so much money that he was forced to let them
go. He had originally intended a larger building.

OCTOBER 5, 1927

Much publicity being given the project. News articles have ap-
peared in all the important New York newspapers. Could see a

The Diary 1927-1930 13

greater value to these news stories if they were more accurate. One
announced a flat monthly rental of $25 and I have been questioned
about this by applicants ever since.

[Realizing the importance of acquainting the public with ac-
curate facts about the project I adopted the practice of sending
reports to the newspapers explaining the nature of the Lavanburg
Homes and keeping the editors supplied with facts about the
rents, number of apartments, number of tenants, and statistical
information about the different activities sponsored. Very often
after such a report was sent the editors would assign a special
reporter to interview me about developments.

Our publicity policy also requires the mailing of annual reports
to individuals and organizations interested in housing. Requests
by clubs and community groups for an address on housing man-
agement and related housing questions are always favorably con-

OCTOBER 7, 1927

Applications passed the 900 mark today. Did considerable work
on classifying the accumulated data.

OCTOBER 27, 1927

On my trips through the East Side, I notice much vandalism and
writing on the walls by the children. My estimate is that we will
have between 200 and 300 children in the house. What to do to
keep them out of mischief and from damaging the property? It is
a great challenge. One thing is obvious children with no oppor-
tunities for play will use their energies to do mischief.

NOVEMBER 5, 1927

Mr. Lavanburg died today. He had been ill for only a short period.
The whole office of the Lavanburg Company in great grief and
confusion. Could not help but wonder how this will affect the

NOVEMBER 7, 1927

The work goes on. Mr. Somers, a partner of Mr. Lavanburg and
chairman of the board of directors, together with Mr. Roger W.
Straus, Mr. Lavanburg's nephew, assume the direction of the Founda-

14 The Diary of a Housing Manager

NOVEMBER 15, 1927

Have a list of 200 applications ready for submission to the com-
mittee for final selection of the 1 1 1 tenants. Am working on report
of my work to date and recommendations for staffing the building.

NOVEMBER 22, 1927

The breakdown of all the applications received is at last complete
and I find the facts very interesting. From June i to November 20,
1130 applications were received. Of these I visited 765 homes in
order to ascertain the living standards of the applicants.

A study of the 930 rejected applications shows the following

High income 535

Badly kept home 90

No children 91

Grown-up children 137

Miscellaneous (Have relatives or parents, or live in a modern

building at present) 77

In this group there were 235 applicants whose income was below
$35 per week and 695 over $35 per week.
I also find interesting that among all the applications received:
413 families applied for 3-room apartments
613 families applied for 4-room apartments
104 families applied for 5 -room apartments

DECEMBER 2, 1927

Today I was introduced to the board. The directors were some-
what skeptical of my fitness for the job because of my youth and
lack of real estate experience. Mr. Lavanburg evidently had not
consulted the board when he had engaged me. However, I was ap-
parently able to satisfy them as they remarked: "Go ahead and see
what you can do."

Although the finishing details of the building will still take a few
weeks to complete, we decided to have the official opening on
December 28. The Mayor will be invited as well as representatives of
social service, civic, and neighborhood organizations.

DECEMBER 6, 1927

Engaged Miss Brown as an assistant today. She has held an ex-
ecutive position with a large social service agency. She understands

The Diary 1927-1930 15

that she will take care of the office routine, including the bookkeep-
ing, as well as help the tenants in some of their problems and also
lead some of the social activities under my supervision.

[Because of her former executive position, she could not be
reconciled to working under another and we soon clashed. Also,
Miss Brown became quite intimate with the tenants, accepting
frequent dinner and luncheon invitations, so that the tenants,
knowing her too well, showed her scant respect. The situation
becoming intolerable, I let Miss Brown go.]

DECEMBER 9, 1927

The debris has been cleared away from the front of the building.
Inside, the painters, plumbers, and electricians are working fever-
ishly to have everything in readiness by the middle of next month.
Word has spread that the Homes are soon to be formally opened
and the crowds of onlookers grow larger each day.

The building stands out more attractively here than it would any-
where else in the city. To reach it, one must pass through blocks of
the worst slum-tenement area in this country. The streets are crowded
with old, incredibly dingy buildings, whose Avindow-sills and fire-
escapes are cluttered with household articles. The gutters are choked
with all kinds of refuse. A corner is turned and one is face to face
with the new building, simple, dignified, and spacious. The con-
trast is startling.

DECEMBER 15, 1927

Moved into the new office. Spent much time purchasing necessary


Have engaged a superintendent. Am greatly relieved to have this
settled, as getting a competent man able to handle a small staff and
do minor repair- work was difficult. He will live in one of the three-
room apartments.

DECEMBER 22, 1927

Terribly hectic day. Workmen hammering in the office, applicants
coming and going, telephone man installing phones, painters spilling
paint, nerves of office staff sorely tried.

1 6 The Diary of a Housing Manager

DECEMBER 2 8, 1927

Dedication and official opening ceremonies. Weather a little
murky but mild, and the sun pierced through the clouds occasionally.
A platform had been erected and was decorated with flags and
bunting. The open court in front was swept clean and chairs placed.

Mayor James J. Walker, guest of honor, made an address. New
York State Senator Bernard Downing and Rev. Dr. Nathan Krass of
Congregation Emanuel-El also spoke. All paid tribute to Fred L.
Lavanburg for creating a concrete embodiment of his idea and for
blazing the trail for sanitary housing on the Lower East Side. The
press was well represented.

The courtyard was filled to overflowing with neighborhood
people, including a large number of children. Police held off the
crowd to clear a way for invited guests, and it was most befitting to
see a solid row of youngsters, two and three deep, forming the front

JANUARY 2, 1928

Have selected a number of additional applicants to form a reserve
list from which to choose should any of the originally selected
families wish to withdraw.

[This proved to be wise as a number of the selected families did
not accept, chiefly because they were not satisfied with the loca-
tion of the apartment assigned to them.]


Started signing leases and taking two weeks' rent as security. The
general attitude of the future tenants is a very happy one. Many are
leaving dark and dingy rooms in dilapidated houses where they have
lived for nine and ten years and even longer. Few have ever enjoyed
the convenience of steam heat and hot water.

[The majority of the tenants are Jewish, as the neighborhood is

predominantly Jewish.]

House rules and regulations have caused much concern. Gossip
and exaggeration are rampant and many of the tenants are hesitant
about signing leases, fearing that their freedom will be curtailed.
Their misgivings are, of course, due to their unfamiliarity with san-
itary living conditions. Am taking much care to dispel unfounded

The Diary 1927-1930 17

[I have often thought since this time that it would be better to
have tenants sign compliance to house rules, rather than sign
leases, even month-to-month leases as ours were. We find there
is nothing we can do in cases of nonpayment of rent, as most of
our tenants are without assets.]

JANUARY 12, 1928

The sixth-floor apartments are very difficult to rent. The physical
strain of climbing makes them undesirable to families with small
children. The five-room apartments also are not being rented readily.
Rental of $10.50 per week is too much for families where the father
is the only source of income. These factors will probably necessitate
our stretching a point and calling in families with grown children,
or families whose income is derived from more than one member of
the family.

[In the five-room apartments, several families were accepted
where older children supplemented the father's income. We
have never allowed families to supplement income with rent
from lodgers and boarders.]

JANUARY 22, 1928

Am being besieged by tradesmen who wish to cater to the tenants.
Since it would be desirable to limit the number of men having access
to the building, passes will be issued to those given special privileges.

[Passes were given an ice-man, a milk-man, and a laundry-man.
This method worked out badly. Tenants complained that the
ice-man, knowing the tenants could not buy elsewhere, gave
short-weights. The laundry, for similar reason, also rendered
poor service. The tenants are serviced now by whomever they
wish, and this arrangement is perfectly satisfactory.]

The first family moved in today. We are not scheduled to receive
tenants until the 25th, but as this man's month ended today, and as
his landlord threatened to sue for a new month's rent if he remained
the few days, we admitted him. We made it perfectly clear, how-
ever, that he must not expect the services of a finished building.

JANUARY 25, 1928

Welcomed the first batch of tenants. Thirty families moved in, all
smiles. A moving schedule had been worked out in advance, spread-

1 8 The Diary of a Housing Manager

ing operations over the day to avoid conflicts and confusion. The
plan worked smoothly, with scarcely a hitch.

Still have several top-floor apartments available. Suggested to the
board of directors that two of these apartments be rented to students
of social work who would be asked to give certain periods to recrea-
tional and community work in return for reduced rental. The matter
was left in abeyance to be decided at a future meeting.

JANUARY 26, 1928

Three-year-old Rose Feldman was reported lost by her frantic
mother this afternoon. I telephoned the nearby police station to give
a description of the baby. About an hour later, the little girl was
found calmly wandering about the roof.

The Siegels' infant daughter is very ill. She was taken to the hos-
pital in an ambulance. The doctor's diagnosis^ reported her suffering
from malnutrition. Noticed that the mother looks wan and under-
nourished. Here it is obvious that instruction in proper diet would
help. What about income?

JANUARY 31, 1928

Almost all of the tenants have moved in. The remaining unleased
apartments (rejected because of their location) are gradually being
rented from our reserve list.

FEBRUARY 4, 1928

Rented an apartment to a family recommended by a neighborhood
health clinic. Did this in order to establish a friendly contact. It will
help to create a spirit of cooperation toward the Lavanburg Homes
experiment; to facilitate a wider scope of activity; and to give evi-
dence of our desire to promote the welfare of the people and the

FEBRUARY 6, 1928

Received a phone call from a Congressman of this district regard-
ing a family whose qualifications did not measure up to our standards.
I went over the application very carefully with Mr. Z. explaining
why the family had not been accepted. He asked me to reconsider
as "a personal favor." I explained that on our board we have various
political parties represented, and the directors had instructed me not
to make any concessions on the basis of politics. Under the circum-

The Diary 1927-1930 19

stances, I did not see how I could accommodate him. He seemed to
understand my position and did not press the matter.

FEBRUARY 8, 1928

The children already present a problem. They play very noisily in
the courts until late at night. Their little friends from the neighbor-
hood gather here too, adding to the noise. Measures must be taken
immediately to check this type of disorder, or it will become un-
manageable. Will appoint a number of children to assume responsi-
bility for peace and order, and meanwhile will ask the parents not to
permit their children to play in the courts after seven in the evening.

Things are beginning to appear on the fire-escapes against house
rules. I asked the janitor to call on the offending housewife as soon
as he notices anything on the sills or fire-escapes, and to remind her
that such infractions of the house rules will not be permitted.

[I later changed this plan to that of having every infraction of
the house rules reported at the office. I then sent a note to the
tenant about the matter, keeping a duplicate on file. In this way,
a very useful record of every tenant's willingness to cooperate
was made available. If, after a note, the situation did not improve,
I asked the tenant to come to the office to discuss the difficulty.
Usually this proved to be sufficient.]

The porters hose down the courts every morning, and they are
kept quite clean throughout the day. This is an unusual sight for
Goerck Street.

Tenants are complaining of insufficient hot water. Our boiler does
not seem to heat enough. The consulting engineers think we use a
great deal more hot water than usual for such a building, perhaps
because many of the families do their own washing.

FEBRUARY 9, 1928

Started work on gathering the following statistical data:

Trades of tenants

Previous addresses

Ages of parents

Ages and sex of children

Income of families

The routine is beginning to smooth out. Fire-escapes and courts
are being kept fairly clear. The tenants have learned to use modern

20 The Diary of a Housing Manager

home conveniences such as burglar locks, showers, dumb-waiters,
etc., which before were unknown to the majority of them and at
first gave much trouble.

Complaints poured in the first few days. They were all about such
minor things as windows painted tight, balky faucets, missing shelves
in the medicine chests and so on. Slowly, these things are becoming

[When requests for repairs are made, a form is filled out in
duplicate in the office. The original is routed to the superintend-
ent, and the duplicate remains in book showing date, apartment
making request, etc. When repair is complete, tenant is asked to
sign original slip signifying that the work is finished. These slips
are filed in tenant's folder along with other data. The kind of
repair is also recorded on a mimeographed sheet listing all pos-
sible repairs, which is likewise filed. When a periodic breakdown
of repairs is prepared, the detail is gathered from these mimeo-
graphed sheets.]


Tenants are still complaining that they cannot rest in the evening
because the children play on the sidewalks and streets. In this neigh-
borhood there is no other place for them except the street. Am urg-
ing the completion of the roof and basement. Wrote for estimates
on roof playground equipment today.

My assistant and I are working out a rent-paying system. Tenta-
tively, the plan calls for each tenant to pay weekly on a specified
day, between 9:00 and 1 1:30 A.M.

[This system, as eventually worked out, remained essentially the
same. The only change was that it seemed more practicable to
have but two rent-paying days, Wednesday and Friday. As a
result of this system the tenants paid on whichever day was the
most convenient.]


Board meeting yesterday. The decision was made to start work on
the basement to prepare it for a recreational center. I was asked to
prepare an estimate of the cost of social rooms to include an assembly
hall, game-room, study-room, library, three clubrooms, and work-

The Diary 1927-1930 21

FEBRUARY 14, 1928

Dr. Cushman of the Ridge Street Center asked me to see him.
Wanted to discuss the possibility of maintaining a home-making
demonstration apartment in the Homes. He was ready to furnish an
apartment and have a teacher from the Board of Education who
would work under the supervision of the Women's Department of
his Center. She would conduct a course on model housekeeping; the
course to be open to the tenants and neighborhood women. After
some thought, decided to do nothing about installing such an apart-
ment just now. Explained to Dr. Cushman I felt it important to go
very slowly with the development of various activities because of
the danger of institutionalizing the Homes. It is my feeling that as
the tenants become acquainted with each other, suggestions of what
they want will come from them.

[In guiding the recreational and community life of the Homes,
my theory has been to let the activities develop slowly and to
grow out of the desires of the tenants.]

FEBRUARY 1 6, 1928

Mrs. Finestein and Mrs. Timberg came in at i : 1 5 to pay their rent.
Great was their surprise when Miss Brown refused to accept the
money, pointing out that the hours for collections were from 9:00 to
11:30. The two women went out, a bit flustered, one remarking,

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Online LibraryAbraham GoldfeldThe diary of a housing manager → online text (page 2 of 11)