Housing and homelessness in New York

Essay by gazizova March 2004

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Homelessness in America first appeared in the early 1600s with the beginning of

immigration, which mainly consisted of poor people looking for a job and a place to

settle. Between 1870 and 1924 millions of immigrants were coming to U.S. and

cramming tenement houses. Those of them who were extremely poor and could not

afford their living expenses, finally found themselves on the streets. The Great

Depression of the 1930s, which brought unstableness and massive unemployment,

increased homeless population drastically (Sweeney 13-17).

The history of homelessness in New York City can be traced back to the late 1970s.

At that time there was sufficient housing in New York for those people with law incomes.

In the mid-1970s, however, New York City began to experience serious economic

problems and came very close to declaring bankruptcy. This was symbolized by the

famous newspaper headline: "Ford to city: Drop Dead." "...in the late 1970s early signs

of a growing affordable housing shortage could be seen in the rapidly growing number of

homeless men and women sleeping on the streets, in parks, and in transportation

terminals" (Markee 1).

This was made worse by the fuel crisis a few years later, as well

as a national recession in the early 1980s, and resulted in very high costs for building

owners. Many middle class people and companies began to leave New York as crime


increased. To try to keep the middle class, New York City created a real estate tax

abatement program known as J-51 program, which converted thousands of rental units

into co-operative apartments. Unfortunately, many of these converted units were

single-room-occupancy (SRO) hotels in different boroughs of the city that were used by

law-income citizens. Many of the SRO buildings were destroyed or converted into

condominiums. "Between 1972 and 1982, largely through this...