To the Editor:

I would like to add one point to the illuminating exchange of views among George Raymond, Herbert Gans, and Malcolm Rivkin [“Urban Renewal,” July]. Mr. Raymond leans heavily on the recent Census Bureau report on relocation to refute charges made by Mr. Gans and others that a disturbingly high proportion of displaced families wind up in inferior housing, paying higher rents. In his reply, Mr. Gans aptly points out that many families leave the site before the time of the actual survey and takeover of the land—displacement that is directly attributable to urban renewal but never shows up in official reports. There are also several additional factors which seem to diminish the Census Bureau study’s usefulness as the “definitive answer”:

  1. The study is confined to “families” and therefore omits entirely individual householders, who comprise roughly 30 per cent of relocation caseloads and who usually fare much worse than families in the relocation process.
  2. Post-relocation housing costs are not given for non-renters (nearly two-fifths of the sample), whose housing costs are usually higher than renters’. Even with this bias, however, the median proportion of income being paid for rent following relocation is nearly 28 per cent. That is, half of the sample is paying 28 per cent or more of their income for housing (the usual rule of thumb is that families should pay no more than 20 per cent of their income for housing, if other necessities of life are not to be neglected; for low-income families with insecure sources of income this proportion should probably be kept even lower, since rent is a fixed cost).
  3. The sample in no sense seems representative of large-city relocation situations, since the figures indicate that 53 per cent of the relocatees moved into single-family homes.
  4. There are no figures given in the report on overcrowding, a key element in determining sub-standard living conditions, and one of the important bases on which slum-clearance decisions are made.
  5. No figures are given on how many of the relocated families moved into areas slated for future clearance, a frequent phenomenon in cities where many taking agencies are operating (a headline in the New York Times on the day this letter is being written notes: “Families Facing 2nd Displacement-Housing Project May Oust Many Who Left Path of Downtown Expressway”).
  6. The official description of the study’s findings—that “94 per cent of all displaced families relocate in standard housing”—is a gross exaggeration, even with all the above caveats. In the first place, a definition of sub-standard housing was used that is less stringent than the usual formulation (units classified by the Census as “deteriorating” are included in the definition of “standard housing”). And second, the relocation housing of 542 of the original sample of 2,842 households was not rated, and conclusions were based only on the remaining 2,300 families; it is usually assumed that persons who are “lost” in the relocation process are the more alienated and disadvantaged segment of the population and hence fare worse than others.

In sum, the Census Bureau report has not really refuted the contention that relocation is an inequitable part of the renewal process, which is one of the principal criticisms Mr. Gans and others make of the urban-renewal program.

Chester W. Hartman
Joint Center for Urban Studies
Cambridge, Massachusetts



To the Editor:

. . . Despite the quantities of statistical and factual evidence, there still seemed to be an unreal quality to the urban-renewal discussion. In practical terms, there are two different questions at issue: one is that of the immediate here and now, with which Mr. Raymond is most concerned; the other is the question of the future. . . .

About ten years ago, Robert Nisbet wrote a book in which he argued . . . that the individual was being increasingly confronted by an omnipotent state, while at the same time being gradually divested of virtually all other intermediate associations. . . . Formerly only one association among many, the state is now being transformed, according to Nisbet, into the only community from which men derive . . . meaning and security.

However debatable Nisbet’s thesis . . . the book did raise very forcefully the question of . . . the nature of community in a bureau-cratized world. . . . This vital question entails at least three aspects. One is . . . the interests on which community is supposed to be based . . . . Our society has left this to the assumed random wants of individuals . . . but this question of basic versus random human interests must be raised anew. The second issue . . . is the proper division of authority between the individual and the state. The third issue is effective leadership . . . for social change. . . . We look in vain for hard thinking about the community of the future and its relationship to a coherent society.

The lack of such thinking is not surprising; as those who do think about the subject well know—Paul and Percival Goodman, for example—no real community theory is possible without a fundamental rethinking of the question, among others, of what we are going to mean in the future by “work.” Right now we . . . do little but adhere to platitudes about job training in the context of (almost) full employment—but, as Robert Theobold and Rex Hopper have suggested, in the present market context, this will not do. Let us imagine for a moment that our society chooses to take seriously Marx’s early writing on alienated labor. This would entail momentous results . . . including a fundamental change in the social division of labor. . . .

. . . To be sure, such changes and transformations . . . amount to a revolution in property definitions and relationships. . . . But how can we discuss housing, city planning, relocation, and design without treating the larger questions of community, division of labor, property and population? . . . It is time to take up where Karl Mannheim left off with his epochal Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction. . . .

Manfred Stanley
Department of Sociology
Wagner College
Staten Island, New York



To the Editor:

Since Mr. Gans’s position rests on his assertion that the housing conditions of the poor are actually made worse by the urban-renewal program, as presently run, it is regrettable that he has remained unaffected by the results of the independent relocation survey undertaken in 1964 by the Census Bureau at the request of the Housing and Home Finance Administrator. . . . Perhaps your readers should be given more details about it. . . .

The census survey covered not a portion, but all of the 2,842 families who were relocated over a three-month period in 132 cities. Of 2,300 families (81 per cent of the total) who were interviewed, 94 per cent ended up in standard housing, at only a slight median increase in rent. Of the 542 families on whom data is lacking, 136 were not at home or refused to be interviewed, 138 moved outside their previous metropolitan region, and 278 could not be traced due to faulty or inadequate forwarding addresses. It is not at all unlikely that a good many of the families who were not interviewed also ended up in standard quarters. This survey is, perhaps, the first concrete evidence that—as Mr. Gans himself admits—relocation policies have “improved immeasurably since the end of the Eisenhower administration.” . . . His attempt to damage the image of the program by using obsolete data reflecting pre-relocation experience can hardly be interpreted as constructive criticism.

It is also regrettable that Mr. Gans rejects the relevance of white out-migration to . . . relocation. If the apartments vacated by middle-class whites moving to the suburbs are standard, and within the means of families displaced by urban renewal, they can be used for relocation purposes just like newly-erected units. When they are not used in this way, they usually fill up with new, largely rural and largely poor Negro or Puerto Rican in-migrants, as has already happened in many cities all over the country. . . . If our cities are to become heterogeneous and slumless rather than all-poor, all-Negro slums, the use of available standard apartments for rehousing slum dwellers in order to make possible the demolition of the vacated slums, is the only valid choice open.

Mr. Gans has been extraordinarily inventive in presenting what he purports to be my position on urban renewal. . . . Actually, my position (over-simplified for lack of space) is that so long as we can cause anywhere between 80 per cent and 90 per cent of the displaced families to exchange their slums for decent housing, it is quite proper to determine what is or is not built on the sites previously occupied by slums on the basis of priorities which include the other needs of the poor as only one of many criteria. . . . I do not negate the need for anti-poverty programs, for more public housing and rent subsidies, or for any other program which would improve still further the condition of all the poor, including those displaced by public programs. To a large extent, however, the effectiveness of anti-poverty programs will depend upon our success in replacing slums with better housing. New York City’s Welfare Commissioner James Dumpson recently stated no more than the obvious when he said that “welfare caseloads will decline only as we improve housing conditions. . . . It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to rehabilitate families who live in slum housing. All the social services in the world given freely to a family cannot substitute for a decent place to live.”

Perceptive observers of the social scene, like Elizabeth Wood, for example, have long realized that we must move on both fronts, if we are ever to win any battles on either. . . . In rejecting the feasibility of such a twofold effort, Mr. Gans has constructed a plausible set of proposals. On closer inspection, however, it becomes apparent that his goals, including the all-Negro city, are unacceptable, and that most of the means he proposed are, and will remain, largely unavailable. In view of the solid accomplishments of urban renewal all over the country, to suggest that what that program mainly does is build stores where vacancies abound, and create housing that no one can afford, is patently untrue. . . .

George M. Raymond
School of Architecture
Pratt Institute
Brooklyn, New York



Mr. Gans writes:

Mr. Raymond is wrong; I did not remain unaffected by the Census Bureau relocation study. I said it was inadequate when I responded to his letter in the July issue, and I explained why. Mr. Raymond’s new statistical recital only demonstrates its inadequacy once again. He himself indicates that the study covered the families who were relocated by urban renewal, but this tells us nothing about all those who were displaced by it. At best, the survey can claim that in 132 cities, renewal agencies properly relocated most of the people they actually relocated, but it cannot even prove that, for as Mr. Hartman points out, the study has other serious deficiencies.

Until the Housing and Home Finance Agency answers the questions Mr. Hartman and I have raised about the study, and until it can provide data on the fate of the displaced, especially in the large cities, all the reliable research indicates that urban renewal and relocation hurt the slum dweller more often than they help him.

I am pleased that Mr. Raymond has finally stated his own position on urban renewal, and I am even more pleased to find us in agreement on a number of points. When he provides adequate proof that 90 per cent of the displaced are relocated properly, cleared sites can be rebuilt according to the criteria he hints at. I agree also that apartments deserted by middle-class whites can be used for relocation, although housing must still be provided for the rural inmigrants, since they will continue to come to the cities until something is done about rural poverty and Southern persecution of the Negro.

I am also pleased that Mr. Raymond has now seconded the suggestion I made in my original article in COMMENTARY [“The Failure of Urban Renewal,” April] that anti-poverty and housing programs must go together although I still insist that the first is more important than the second. If a slum dweller’s poverty is eliminated, he will move out of the slums on his own initiative, but if his slum apartment is eliminated without his income being raised, he is worse off than ever. (Of course social services will not help a family without a decent place to live; this is why I argued so strenuously for a massive urban-rehousing program to replace urban renewal.)

I did not say that urban renewal builds stores where vacancies abound, but only that Mr. Raymond seemed to consider new stores more important than new housing for the displaced. Nor did I propose the all-Negro city as a goal; I only indicated that from the point of view of the low-income Negro, it might provide him with better housing and municipal services, and a stronger voice in the affairs of the city.

Considering the insistence with which Mr. Raymond praises the improvements that have taken place in urban renewal since the beginning of the decade, and given the success of the President’s domestic legislative program in the present session of Congress, I am surprised that he has so little faith in the possibility of further improvements in federal housing policies. And since Mr. Raymond lives in New York, and has worked on urban-renewal projects in other cities, I am even more surprised that he can describe the program as “a solid achievement.”

Mr. Stanley raises some important issues, but is a little unfair in asking that they be covered in a discussion of urban renewal. Moreover, doing away with the slums, the ghetto, and poverty seem to me more urgent, and more feasible, priorities than creating communities whose members have a basic, rather than random, interest in their place of residence.

I am not even sure that such communities are desirable, for they appear to require a return to Gemeinschaft, with its extreme demand for conformity and its unilateral repression of individual freedom. Most people have just escaped from this type of community in the last couple of generations, and the considerable research on the suburbs to which they have escaped, including my own in one of the Levittowns, indicates that the loose ties among neighbors, which are hardly random, make for a better life for almost everyone.

Even the kibbutzim of Israel, which seem to come closest to what Mr. Stanley wants in the way of community, are currently permitting greater individual freedom and wider choice of personal activities to their members, without doing away with the collective economy, and without impairing the democratic and equalitarian principles on which they are based.

Indeed, the trouble with the American suburbs and suburbanites is that they still have too much basic interest in their local community. By rejecting public policies which would make for a proper division of authority between local, metropolitan, state, and federal governments, they make it impossible to bring about racial integration beyond the city limits, or to find ways of reimbursing the bankrupt cities for the municipal services which commuting suburbanites use every day. Their intermediate associations reinforce this localism, and I only wish that the suburbs would respond more constructively to the meaning and security—not to mention the F.H.A. subsidies and the expressways—which they derive from the federal government.

+ A A -
Share via
Copy link