Distributional patterns in Boston public housing
Carter, John A.
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Public housing has been built largely as a response to the spread of slums in American cities. The origins and growth of slums in different sections of Boston have been caused by several factors. The North and West Ends, originally the most exclusive districts in the city, declined as upper and middle-class residents moved outwards toward the periphery of Boston and beyond into the surrounding towns. The exodus of the upper classes from Central Boston was stimulated by the arrival of European immigrant laborers and by extensions and improvements in public transportation, especially after the middle of the 18th Century. Af first settling in the North and West Ends and in the South Cove, immigrants soon moved into Charlestown, East Boston, the South End and South Boston, attracted by the shipping, factory, and warehouse employment in these areas. Further improvements in public transportation and reduced fares facilitated the migration of low-income families (mainly composed of immigrants) to other outlying sections of Boston; Roxbury, Dorchester and Brighton. Also important as a blighting influence was the elevated railway in Charlestown, the South End and Roxbury. In the West and South Ends and in Roxbury, many cheaply-constructed tenements were built. In 1891, the first city-wide census of housing conditions was made. A wide distribution of slum conditions existed; the North and South Ends and South Boston contained the highest percentages of unsanitary tenements, Charlestown and the built-up sections of East Boston and Roxbury had deteriorated and conditions below the city average were found even in Brighton, Dorchester and West Roxbury. During the first quarter of the present century, many lower-quality frame three-deckers were built in Dorchester, East Boston, Roxbury and South Boston. In studies undertaken by the City Planning Board in 1934 and 1935, physical housing characteristics were compiled, proposed public housing project sites were studied and the relative income and cost of different sections of the city were analyzed. The slums were found to be a heavy economic liability to the city. Although limited as a measurement of blight, 1950 U. S. Census of Housing figures, available by blocks, are the only recent data for the whole city. Boston's first public housing project was Old Harbor Village, built in 1938 under the Federal Government P. W. A. program. This project was built on an essentially vacant site in South Boston and most of the original tenants came from nearby substandard housing areas in South Boston and northern Dorchester. Zoning changes, designed as a protection from harmful land uses, were made in this area and several stores and a church have been attracted by the project. The three programs under which public housing has been built in Boston are; (1) Federally-aided for low-income families, (2) State-aided for low-income veterans and (3) City-State, sold to private individuals five years after construction. The U. S. Housing Acts of 1937 and 1949 that for all Federally-aided public housing units constructed, an equal number of slum dwellings be eliminated. The earliest projects were slum clearance projects located near downtown Boston. The State-aided and City-State legislations, passed soon after World War II, did not require slum clearance because of an acute housing shortage. Many of these, as well as some Federally-aided projects were built on vacant sites. In some cases, due to the lack of available vacant land in Boston and under the pressure of the housing shortage, vacant site projects were located on poorer quality land. City-owned land and private estates were sought for a number of housing projects in order that delays in assembling and clearing several parcels of land could be avoided. Of the several aspects of public housing distribution considered in this study, a sharp contrast between slum clearance and vacant site projects has been evident in respect to services; schools, public transportation and retail shopping. The lack of service availability has been most noticeable in projects located at the city is periphery; Orient Heights, Columbia Point and Fairmount. Both the Orient Heights and Fairmount projects have been primarily responsible for the recent construction of nearby elementary schools and the new Columbia Point School, built for the exclusive use of children from the Columbia Point Project, is not large enough. Another public school will be required for this project. Again, extensions of public transportation service have been necessary largely because of these three projects, and in the case of Columbia Point, a bus route was initiated solely for the project occupants. On the other hand, all slum clearance projects are well-served by public traasportation, in many instances by the surface and elevated routes that have strongly contributed to slum growth. Few stores, except for supermarkets, have been attracted by public housing projects. Only three stores have located adjacent to Columbia Point, the largest project in the city. The supermarket that serves Columbia Point is approximately 1400 feet from the project boundary and was built primarily for drive-in trade from Morrissey Boulevard. The most widely distributed store types within convenient walking distance from housing projects (taken as 600 feet) are grocery stores, drug stores and eating places. The most frequent store types within this distance are grocery stores, eating places and drinking places. A high percentage (up to 50 per cent in the case of the South St. Project) of the stores around several projects are vacant. Most of these vacancies are the result of overestimation of local markets, including housing projects, depopulation and successful competition of supermarkets. The percentage of registered Democratic voters in precincts containing housing projects is higher than the average for the city. In 1956, 85 per cent of all registered voters in Boston were Democrats; in housing projects approximately 95 per cent of the number of voters that could be determined were Democrats. In one ward, Ward IV, a slight Republican majority was changed to a slight Democratic majority primarily due to voters living in the Mission Hill Extension Project. Many projects, especially slum clearance projects, are not sufficiently protected by zoning restrictions from present and future intrusion of adjacent land uses harmful to the environment of the projects. Although most of the zoning changes and variances requested by the Boston Housing Authority have been granted, zoning restrictions have prevented the construction of several proposed vacant site housing projects. The location of a number of existing vacant site projects has depended on zoning changes. The proportion of younger people (under 21 years) is higher in public housing projects than in the city as a whole. Also high is the percentage of broken homes, often headed by females. Population density has even been increased over previously high densities in several slum clearance projects, especially the South End Project. This reflects expensive site acquisition in the slums. The assessed values of individual projects are extremely variable and there are no apparent factors accounting for the discrepancies. The per-dwelling-unit assessment in some projects is more than ten times that of others. The total effect of housing project construction in Boston has been to stabilize the centrifugal movement of population, since the median average distance of public housing dwelling units from the center of the city is approximately the same as all dwelling units in the city. The center of gravity of public housing distribution in the city has moved 1 1/2 miles to the southwest during the period 1940 to 1954, towards the largest amounts of vacant land. Formerly within a severely blighted area in the South End, the center is now located in Roxbury, south of the city's highest slum concentrations. The proportion of public housing to total housing is approximately 6 per cent in Boston, higher than in most other American cities. Most of the larger multi-family projects in the city are Federally-aided, while the smaller City-State temporary public housing projects usually consisted of two- and one-family houses. Except for the North and West Ends, projects have been well-distributed throughout the city. High land costs prevented the construction of projects in these two areas. The only probable construction of additional public housing in the city will be for low-income elderly individuals. As this would be a State-aided program, slum clearance would not be required and projects would be built on vacant sites. Eventually, public housing may also be built for low-income minority groups, perhaps Negroes. If built under a Federally-aided program, substandard housing sections in Roxbury or Dorchester would probably be chosen for sites. These are the areas of most recent Negro settlement in Boston and lower land values would permit slum clearance at a reasonable cost. Experimental forms of Federally-aided public housing in other parts of the country are small one- to four-faffiily projects on dispersed sites and the renovation of slum housing for use as public housing. Spreading slums and land scarcity would favor the latter approach to future public housing in Boston.
Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University
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