"Homes for War Workmen: Government Plans to Improve Living Conditions Near Big Plants," The New York Times, October 5, 1917, p. 9.
WASHINGTON, Oct. 4. - Crowded living conditions which are hampering war work in industrial centres were discussed today by the National Defense Council's Advisory Commission, with a view to formulating some policy by which quick relief might be afforded either through actual Government financing of community home building or aiding private enterprises.
The situation is particularly acute in Bridgeport, Conn., Akron, Ohio, Newport News, and Norfolk, Va., and in several New Jersey towns. The commission was told by Phillip Hiss, a New York architect, who is Chairman of the Council's Subcommittee on Housing, which has just visited Eastern and Midwestern industrial centres. Immediate relief is necessary if important war industries are to be properly expanded.
President Wilson's attention was called to the situation several weeks ago and he requested immediate investigation and recommendations.
"The Backward Shipbuilding Program," New York Times, January 10, 1918, p. 12.
A sensation seems to have been caused by the testimony of President Ferguson of the Newport News Shipbuilding Company before the Senate Commerce Committee that the Government's program of 6,000,000 tons in 1918, including requisitions, could not be carried out because housing facilities for shipyard workers were not available. "You cannot get ships," said Mr. Ferguson, "unless houses are provided for workmen," and he added that it was idle talk of even double shifts under present conditions. Referring to his own yards, he make this statement:
We have not enough men to work one shift, and in one house I know of eighteen persons are living in five rooms. We have not the money to build houses, and it is the duty of the Government to put them up. We are ready to furnish the land."
This moved Senator Martin to say that "if housing is so badly needed the Government can get the money within forty-eight hours for the purpose." Indignation with this state of things is natural. Whether there would be relief if it were generally known that housing for workers has for some time been a concern of the Shipping Board would depend upon the point of view. On Dec. 30 Chairman Hurley wrote a letter to Senator Fletcher of the Commerce Committee asking for an appropriation of $35,000,000 for the erection of houses at shipyards. An elaborate bill has been drawn to effect that purpose. The creation of boards within boards is a habit of the Council of National Defense. Mr. Hurley, in his letter to Senator Fletcher, said that the War Industries Board had appointed a Committee on Housing, with Otto M. Eidlitz as Chairman, to investigate and advise on the situation. It has recommended adequate housing facilities, but, wrote Mr. Hurley:
Owing to the fact that this problem has not yet reached a critical stage at the time Congress adjourned at its last session, and that no request had been made to Congress for an appropriation to provide necessary houses, Mr. Eidlitz was unable to do more than suggest.
In other paragraphs of his letter Chairman Hurley admitted that the problem had become critical long before the adjournment of Congress. He named yard after yard where conditions were very unsatisfactory, among them the plant at Newport News. On Nov. 1 he appointed J. Rogers Flannery "to see what could be done to help the housing facilities at the shipyards." Congress did not adjourn until just before Christmas. In closing, Mr. Hurley said that "housing facilities must be obtained for the large army of labor that must live where the Government's operations are being conducted on such an enormous scale."
Yet Chairman Hurley wrote over his own signature that the problem "had not yet reached a critical stage at the time Congress adjourned." Mr. Ferguson declared in his statement to the Commerce Committee that his company had asked the Government to advance $1,500,000 for the construction of workmen's houses at Newport News, but "no action has been taken, we are simply ignored." He had talked about the matter with "General Goethals and Admiral Capps and Chairman Hurley of the Shipping Board," after nine months of effort was "sick of the subject."
When has housing for shipyard workers not been a problem? The original trouble was, of course, the failure of the draftsmen of the United Stated Shipping Board act to visualize the obvious necessity and provide an appropriation. That was during the month of August or earlier. It is a pity that a practical shipbuilder like Homer L. Ferguson was not consulted. The blunder might have been remedied long before the adjournment of Congress. Probably it would have been if the boards and committees had not made confusion by duplicating effort and getting in the way of one another. A pressing reform is elimination and coordination. The Government is tangled in a maze of these agencies. But no time should be lost by Senator Fletcher in pushing his appropriation bill for the relief of shipyards to passage. The Emergency Fleet Corporation has planned a town for workers in the Government shipbuilding plant at Hog Island on the Delaware, having funds for the purpose, but if new construction is to be speeded at the private shipyards they must also have housing facilities. Of all things necessary to win the war ships indisputably hold first place.
"Housing Measure Passed: Senate Approves Appropriation for Employees of Shipyards," Special to The New York Times, Jan. 19, 1918, p. 15.
WASHINGTON, Jan. 18. - The Senate passed today by a viva voce vote a bill by Senator Fletcher appropriating $50,000,000 for housing facilities for employees of shipyards. One feature of the bill would enable the Shipping Board, under whose jurisdiction the housing problem is put, to acquire by condemnation any land needed. The bill goes to the House, which is expected to approve it.
Chairman Hurley of the Shipping Board wrote a letter to Senator Fletcher, which was read on the floor, urging the passage of the bill to remedy badly congested conditions at Hog Island, Newark, Newport News, and other shipping centres. He called the housing situation "critical."
Senator Wadsworth of New York urged the Senate to go even further in the housing problem. He spoke of lack of accommodations for workmen in other war industries, and said the Government, soon or late, must provide them.
"Bill for Housing Passed: House Ratifies $50,000,000 Measure with Minor Changes," New York Times, Feb. 13, 1918, p. 6.
WASHINGTON, Feb. 12. - The Administration bill, already passed by the Senate, appropriating $50,000,000 to provide housing facilities for employees of shipyards engaged in Government work, was passed by the House late today without a roll call.
The House adopted some minor amendments, which the Senate may accept to obviate necessity of sending the measure to conference.
"Housing Bill Goes to President," New York Times, Feb. 27, 1918, p. 4.
WASHINGTON. Feb. 26. Final action was taken today on the bill authorizing expenditure of $50,000,000 by the Shipping Board for housing facilities at shipbuilding yards when the Senate adopted the conference report approved by the House. The measure now goes to President Wilson.
"Fleet Corporation to Seize Houses: President Signs $50,000,000 Bill to Provide Homes for Army of Shipyard Workers. Extortionists Must Go. Landlords Who Have Put Up Prices First to be Ousted - Paves Way for Seizure of Timber." Special to The New York Times, March 2, 1918, p. 8.
WASHINGTON, March 1. - President Wilson signed the Emergency Fleet Corporation Housing bill today, and immediate steps were taken by the Government to commandeer boarding houses, hotels, apartments, and even private homes near shipyards in order to prepare for the influx of thousands of new workers who will speed up the shipbuilding program.
The commandeering of these accommodations will be the first step, to be followed, where necessary, by the construction of new houses. The bill carries an appropriation of $50,000,000 and the Emergency Fleet Corporation will extend loans to private shipyards at 5 percent, to carry on this work. It will not, however, bear the expense of the new homes, except at Government-owned yards.
President Wilson would be empowered to commandeer timber or lumber needed for the army, navy, or Shipping Board under a bill ordered favorably reported today by the Senate Military Committee. Difficulties encountered particularly by the Shipping Board in obtaining lumber for shipbuilding and by the army aviation service in getting spruce for airplanes are the immediate situations which the bill is designed to remedy. Senator Chamberlain of Oregon, Chairman of the Military Committee, introduced the bill. It received the committee's unanimous approval.
The powers conferred upon the Fleet Corporation by the Housing bill are very broad, according to a ruling obtained today. The Fleet Corporation may purchase at private sale, lease, requisition, either permanently or temporarily, or condemn title to real estate, improved or unimproved. It may also construct on such land houses with all appropriate facilities, such as streets, sewer, and water systems, and it may dispose of such property as fully as a private owner might do.
The act provides also that no contracts on the cost plus percentage of cost for profit basis may be entered into except with certain limitations.
A division headed by J. Roger Flannery has been formed by the Emergency Fleet Corporation to handle the problem and a survey has been made to determine the properties which are to be taken over by the Government at once.
The act places practically no limitation on the extent to which the Fleet Corporation may go in order to provide comfortable homes for the employees at reasonable prices. All houses which have remained empty in the vicinity of shipyards will be seized after consultation with the owners, and proprietors of boarding houses and hotels near the shipyards who have taken advantage of the great demand for accommodations to boost prices will receive scant consideration.
The Government will determine the fair value, take possession of the properties if necessary to furnish the workers with homes at such prices, and leave the owners who do not agree to accept the proposition the opportunity to go to the courts to seek redress.
Boarding houses and hotels near shipyards which already are occupied by persons not employed in ship construction will not escape the enforcement of these measures. The corporation will request the tenants to move to other sections to make way for the shipyard workers. The expenses of moving will be borne by the Government.
The plan has been worked out in connection with the transportation facilities and the needs of the shipyards. After the quarters now available are made ready for the ship workers the problem of new construction will be taken up.
In connection with the construction of new homes the Government has the power to commandeer unimproved land, thus making it impossible for owners to hold out for prices which are considered extortionate by the Government.
The work of making the survey to determine the needs and available accommodations has been in progress for three months, and is now practically complete.
The American merchant fleet was increased by 399 seagoing vessels in the last six months of 1917, Government officials said today, or an average of more than two a day. Many of the vessels were built in the United States, having been under construction for foreign accounts and taken over by the United States Government. Others were interned German ships, hut the large steamers like the Vaterland, which were commandeered by the navy, are not included in the total of 399.
Figures previously made public showed that more than 1,000,000 tons of shipping was added to the American merchant marine in 1917.
"Speed Up the Housing," New York Times, March 3, 1918, p. 26.
It has taken time, very precious time, to obtain from Congress an appropriation of $50,000,000 for the housing of shipyard workers. The bill which President Wilson has just signed should have been passed nine months ago. It wasn't, because if any man had vision enough to realize the importance of housing in the shipbuilding plan no one in authority would listen to him. A superman to foresee, contrive, coordinate, command in a democracy involved in a great war is a figment of the imagination. If there were any individual so divinely gifted, he could not prove his capacity to the executive and legislative departments of the Government or to a sovereign people.
Republics and other Governments of free people do things better in the end, come swifter at the finish, than autocracies, but learn only in the school of experience and are slow starters in national enterprises, including wars. When the universal thought has been crystallized it is consummate wisdom, but the process of crystallization takes a long time. Looking backward, everybody now says: "Housing for shipyard workers was as necessary as wood, steel, tools, and sinews. Why wasn't it planned and provided for in the first month of the war?" Well, the money for it is at last available; the organization to commandeer, condemn, make loans to shipbuilding companies and build houses in Government yards, has long been in existence; if there is delay in beginning the solution of the problem and driving ahead on it, the Emergency Fleet Corporation will be called to account.
What is to be done must be done right. Hundreds of instructive articles have been printed about housing for war workers. Every authority on the general subject has had his say to the Council of National Defense. There will be no excuse for doing things wrong. There may be differences of opinion about what should be done first and how much of it, but thereafter the execution of the plan must be systematic and rapid, with no mistakes and no loss of time.
There have been preliminary inspections and surveys. The Corporation should be ready to take over buildings suitable for shipworkers in the vicinity of yards, and to arrange for transportatoin by local railway companies when accommodations are available within easy riding distance. Where such conditions do not exist houses on a standardization plan must be built. To companies under contract it will be necessary to lend money; in the Government plants work can begin at once. There need be no delay in either case. The point to be kept in view is the improvement of living conditions to prevent labor "turnovers." If the workers are comfortably sheltered, they will stick to their jobs, and under their hands the fabrics will grow visibly from day to day. Records will be broken no doubt. That is the way to end the war on sea and land before the manpower of the nation is exhausted.
Some of the war-housing specialists urge that workers' quarters be built for permanency. If that can be done quickly, well and good; but can it? In a conflagration it is imperative to get apparatus that will quench and stay the flames, even if that apparatus cannot be used intact for the next conflagration. Use is far more important than durability. so of the housing for shipworkers. If too much time is spent upon it, the ships will not be launched fast enough and the war may be lost. The workers must have good roofs over their heads, and comfort and sanitation must be always considered in planning and building. The needs of married men with families must have particular attention. Rents my be reasonable, provisioning on the cooperative plan; no profiteering, no "gouging." There must be facilities for recreation. Each plant should be a contented colony, with no drag on its patriotism. Time is the essence of success. There can be a happy medium between building for immediate use, for the demands of the war, and building for post-bellum industry. The latter is obviously a minor consideration. Any one who does not believe it is not taking the war seriously enough.
The Director of Housing of the Emergency Fleet Corporation is J. Rogers Flannery, and the head of the newly established division in the Department of Labor also concerned in the enterprise is Otto M. Eidlitz. They are capable, patriotic men. The American people will expect success from them, but the housing problem will not be solved right unless they have intelligent and loyal support from their principals and are allowed to do their responsible work without officious intereference.