A Small History of Housing in Williamsburg Brooklyn

Williamsburg is a neighbourhood in the New York City constituency of Brooklyn, bordering Greenpoint down to the North, Bedford, from Stuyvesant to the South, Bushwick and Ridgewood, Queens down to the East and the East River down to the West. The neighbourhood is a part of Brooklyn Community Board 1. The neighborhood is served through the New York Police Department (NYPD)’s 90th Precinct. In the City Council, the southern and western part of the neighborhood is represented with the 33rd District; and the eastern part of the neighborhood is represented by the 34th District.

Williamsburg is an influential hub meant for indie rock, hipster culture, and also the local art community. Several ethnic groups also have enclaves in Williamsburg, including Italians, Puerto Ricans, Jews, and Dominicans. The neighbourhood is redefined by a growing population and the rapid development of housing and retail space mainly catered to a wealthy population that has really been historically foreign to the neighborhood.

Williamsburg, the neighbourhood extending fanwise from the Williamsburg Bridge to Flushing and Bushwick Avenues, has a huge polyglot population. Here, with the erection in 1936-1937 of Williamsburg Houses, a PWA construction project started Brooklyn’s first experiment in large-scale low-rent housing.

Williamsburg Houses, Scholes Street to Maujer Street, Leonard Street down to Bushwick Avenue, is the biggest slum clearance and low-rent housing project was accomplished under the Federal Housing program (1939). Built at a cost around $12,800,000, the development incorporates twenty apartment houses, of four stories high, accommodating 1,622 low-income families, about six (6) thousand persons.

The buildings, occupying about 30 per cent of the gross area, are grouped into four (4) superblocks, formed by closing two (2) through streets to traffic. Three (3) blocks have six (6) apartment houses each; the other incorporate two houses, the new William J. Gaynor Junior High School, a playground, and a park. The buildings, individually satisfying in design, are of fireproof construction with standard concrete floors. Colour provides much of their charm yellow ochre brick, blue-gray terra cotta between windows, gray cement, bright blue doors, and dark blue store front parapets. All apartments, two to five rooms, are equipped with refrigerators, electric stoves, and modern plumbing, and supplied with steam heat, cold and hot water. The living room of a classic apartment has a floor area of 150 square feet; the bedroom, 120 and the kitchen, 75.

Williamsburg Houses are under the control and management of the New York City Housing Authority. Tenants are picked on the basis of income and the necessity for better housing. The cultural activities are observed in the social and craft rooms of the project and the community centre of the high school. The Authority provides enough space for classes for mothers in psychology and child care, men’s and women’s clubs, a tenants’ council, a glee club, and youth groups, but these activities are initiated and also conducted by the tenants themselves. It was then declared that the Williamsburg development offers more of the services of good housing than many expensive Park Avenue apartment houses.