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GENERAL HOUSING

THURSDAY, MAY 13, 1948

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
COMMITTEE ON BANKING AND CURRENCY,

Washington, D.C. The committee reconvened at 10 a. m., pursuant to adjournment, the Hon. Jesse P. Wolcott, chairman, presiding.

, Present: Messrs. Wolcott, Smith, Kunkel, Talle, Sundstrom, McMillen, Kilburn, Buffett, Cole, Hull, Banta, Nicholson, Spence, Brown, Patman, Monroney, Folger, Hays, Riley, Buchanan, Boggs, and Multer.

The CHAIRMAN. The committee will come to order.
We will continue with the hearings on S. 866 and related bills.

We will hear first this morning from Mr. Weitzer, national legislative representative of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States.

Mr. WEITZER. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I appreciate the opportunity to present a statement on behalf of Arthur J. Aaronson, the housing chairman of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States, Department of New York, and chairman of the New York State Joint Veterans Housing Council. I believe the clerk has distributed copies of the statement.

STATEMENT OF BERNARD WEITZER, NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE

REPRESENTATIVE, JEWISH WAR VETERANS OF THE UNITED STATES

Mr. WEITZER. Chairman Wolcott and members of the Banking and Currency Committee. Permit me, at this time, to thank the chairman and members of this committee for the opportunity of appearing before you and offering my testimony in behalf of S. 866, the TaftEllender-Wagner bill.

I know that I need not have come to Washington to tell you that there exists in the Nation a grave and critical housing problem. I did have to make the trip here, however, because the hundreds of thousands of displaced and dispossessed veterans in the State of New York want you to know they find the housing situation deplorable and intolerable. They want me to tell you they feel like strangers and displaced persons in their own country, and that you must take immediate steps to ease the pains of their disrupted lives not so much for themselves, but for their wives and children who daily find the housing crisis an unbearable burden. Some thousands want me to tell you they cannot get married for they cannot find a place to live and they will not live in doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled quarters; they want their marriages to succeed. Some thousands want me to tell you they cannot have children; they do not have a room for a child in the places they live. They all want me to tell you they no longer want the housing crises or their lives and futures ignored.

This housing problem, of course, was not made or created by our generation, nor was it created by the generation before us. The returning veteran, with his hopes of marriage and a place to live with his loved ones only made a chronic condition even more acute. The chronic problem has been with us for 50 years as a malignant cancer, constantly growing and weakening the very vitals of the Nation. It is a double critical problem today because men before us refused to recognize their responsibilities to the people and the generations to come after them.

In the past, countless men recognized and predicted the very crisis we have in housing today. One of these men, in 1936, told the Nation bluntly that one-third of it was poorly housed and he was ignored, as the others before him. It is not for us any longer to ignore the 3,000,000 American veterans who, today, desperately need a clean, wholesome, sanitary, private place in which to live, and in which to make their homes and to create their lives. For every day that we defer the problem now or procrastinate on its solution, the housing problem grows deeper and broader, gnawing at the very vitals of the democracy and American way of life which these veterans of the last war gave so much to keep and sustain.

The veterans of today refuse to evade their responsibilities to this critical internal problem just as they refused to ignore their responsibilities when the security and the safety of their Nation was just as gravely threatened by our enemies from without. The veteran of today demands that we meet this housing issue face to face, and that we solve it now.

I know that I need not come before this committee with arms filled with elaborately drawn charts and statistics. Nor do I care at this time to enter into a fruitless debate with the real-estate lobbyists who have shown themselves incapable of grasping the scope of the crisis that actually confronts this Nation today. I do come with a few facts of life on the national housing picture and I know, stark as they are, they speak more eloquently than any charts or statistics of the severe need for this legislation. These facts tell us, as the Joint Congressional Investigation Committee determined, that there are in the Nation today some 3,800,000 "standard” housing units which are at least 50 years of age and that there are some 2,000,000 “standard” housing units which are at least 60 years of age. The Bureau of the Census tells us that we conservatively have some 6,300,000 housing units now which are substandard and unhealthy for the people to live in. We veterans of the State of New York, in surveying the situation, are certain that at least a majority of these substandard housing units are right within our own State. In New York, I need not remind this committee, we had a serious housing shortage before the war. The war years, with their lack of construction, and the shift of population from all over the Nation, have created a hopeless situation for the returned veteran. He was the man, we know, who entered into the competition for an apartment long after many of them were taken by those who remained at home. What was left for the veteran is a disgrace to the very Nation which.

only some months before, boasted that “nothing was too good for the veteran.” In this chaotic situation in our State, it has been conservatively estimated that we need immediately some 500,000 housing units to care for housing the displaced veteran and his family and, of these 500,000, some 300,000 of them are within the city of New York itself. Of course, each day that passes offers new indignities and sufferings to the veteran as the courts and the rent boards grind out their evictions and dispossesses adding more and more to the lines of the desperate and despondent. And what help, what alleviation can the veteran of the State of New York hope or expect except the immediate passage of this Taft-Ellender-Wagner bill with its lowrent public housing and slum clearance provisions?

Those who are informed of the housing situation in the State of New York know full well that the 1948 legislature of the State did not approve one single piece of legislation to provide further and necessary State aid for housing, although the Governor's loud boast is that the State has, in reserve, a $100,000,000 surplus accumulated during the war years. Instead, we veterans are given the sole and bittering alternative of accepting the necessity of purchasing apartments in an ill-conceived, exorbitantly priced State cooperative housing plan. This plan, it has become painfully obvious, is an ill-conceived political expedient designed to shield from the veteran's anxious eyes the failure of the legislature to pass adequate and affirmative housing legislation. But veterans have become aware of this deception and they are refusing to be coaxed into paying sums of $9,000 to $12,000 for a three and a half or five and a half room apartment in dubious cooperative projects which would saddle veteran purchasers with payments in rent, expense, and amortization of sums varyings from $80 to $130 monthly for the next 35 years of their lives.

Commissioner Herman T. Stichman, our State housing commissioner, is already confessing to discouragement because he cannot get 800, let alone 8,000, veterans to mortgage 35 of their next years because their representatives in the State legislature were derelict and delinquent in their obligations to the veteran. So, in short, we have the ugly and frustrating spectacle of the most heavily populated State in the United States without an adequate housing program for veterans.

And what is the situation within the city of New York? As I have said previously, we have a conservative need of 300,000 housing units immediately and this need is based upon the 100,000 actual applications for apartments which the New York City Housing Authority has on its records along with the thousands of other veterans who are living in temporarily converted barracks, Nissen huts, slapstick quarters, all of which are falling apart and creating misery for those who live in them.

Add to those numbers the thousands and thousands of veterans now living in doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled quarters and those thousands penned up in the furnished rooming houses where they do not have the needed cooking facilities normal to decent living. To these we must also add the thousands of others who are living with in-laws. In this unfortunate situation some veterans have the hope that the city's new, proposed unsubsidized housing program, providing for some 17,000 new medium-income units will be adopted

by the city's board of estimates. The veteran sees there, as he sees here, a vicious real-estate lobby fighting the only chance he may have this year, by municipal effort, to find a place to live. Luckily, the veterans and the people of the city have made known their demands to their city representatives, and I am happy to entertain the hope that the new unsubsidized housing program will be passed and these few housing units may be made available for occupancy within another year. But, I ask, what is 17,000 housing units in a

. flood of 100,000 applications? What is 17,000 housing units when -300,000 are needed within the city now?

This, in brief, is the tragic situation within the State of New York. We will have the unsubsidized program in the city, but that program will thoroughly exhaust the borrowing power of the municipality and represents the end of further municipal effort. The only alternative to the veteran, and our Representatives in this Congress, is the immediate passage of the Taft-Ellender-Wagner bill, with its low-rent public housing and slum clearance provisions.

Now, we veterans understand, from the press reports that there is on foot an effort by the same real-estate interests to defeat the TaftEllender-Wagner bill in the Congress as there was in the city of New York to defeat its housing program. We understand that real estate spokesmen have advanced certain arguments against this proposed legislation. It is my intention to take these arguments, one by one, and show that they are but mere reasons for delay and are the smokescreens under which self-seeking un-American interests, coldly indifferent to the veteran, want the Congress and the people to become confused and uncertain in their deliberations. We veterans have seen this kind of sinister activity in the past. We propose to meet these adversaries head-on just as we met other selfish and nationally destructive interests who wanted to destroy us in the late war. We did not run from our enemies then and we do not propose to run from them now.

The first charge these real-estate interests levy against the TaftEllender-Wagner bill is that the public housing provisions are destructive to private enterprise. Senator Tobey, in answering this charge in the Senate debate on this measure, challenged its validity and, reflecting veteran opinion, wanted to know where private enterprise has been for these past 25 years in providing housing for people in the low rent income groups. Certainly there has been no serious effort to provide housing by private enterprise for these low rent income groups. The only way that the veteran, whose average income is now determined to be some $2,300 annually, can afford to rent a habitable place to live is through the medium of the low rent public housing provisions of the Taft-Ellender-Wagner bill. Private enterprise, given the opportunity by the city of New York, which allowed the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. a tax subsidy, was supposed to ient to persons able to pay up to $12 per room. The facts and figures show that the Stuyvesant project is now demanding upward of $18 per room. This was the supreme chance, we veterans believe, for private enterprise to establish its arguments in the low rent housing field and the opportunity resulted in a dismal failure.

The charge has also been made by the real-estate lobby that the low rent public housing provisions will enable Government housing to compete with private housing. This charge just does not hold water

because the only place for the veteran today to find low-rent housing is in the slums and discarded areas of our cities. The rent differentials are in two different and entirely separate ranges and do not conflict with each other. What the real-estate lobby really means by this argument is that the veteran would have to choose between living in rat holes, which realtors own, and the new healthy construction, which the Government would own. We veterans welcome the choice which the real-estate lobby offers to us; we choose the clean, sanitary, wholesome units.

The charge is also made that the proposed Taft-Ellender-Wagner bill is socialistic or communistic. Gentlemen, hundreds of thousands of homeless veterans are getting tired of being called revolutionaries every time they appeal to their representatives in Congress for action on a housing measure sponsored by three United States Senators whose abhorrence for communism is recognized by everybody but a handful of real estate lobbyists. We veterans, particularly, resent these

, smears because they provide the real Communists with a ready-made propaganda victory, enabling them to pose as friends of the American veteran and furthering the Communist objective of breeding discontent and frustration among hard-pressed ex-servicemen. We veterans are supporting this legislation because we feel and believe that it is just as American as flood controls, mail subsidies, farm parities, Federal contributions to education, levee construction, and every other Federal activity which the Nation proposes for the betterment of its people. Would the real estate lobby contend that the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Catholic War Veterans, the Jewish War Veterans, the Disabled American Veterans, and all the remaining veteran organizations which are endorsing and demanding the passage of this bill are socialistic or communistic

In conclusion, may I say that it is the deep, unanimous, and abiding hope and prayer of every veteran of the State of New York, and the whole Nation, that S. 866, as it is now written and has been given to the House by the Senate, be unqualifiedly and unreservedly ap-proved by this committee and sent to the floor of the House for vote. We veterans are sharply and keenly aware that the hour is late, in this session of Congress, for further protracted consideration of the bill. If the month were February instead of May 1948, we should naturally have welcomed these hearings. We know that hearings for deliberative analysis, investigation, and consideration of pending legislation are what we expect from our representatives on matters vitally affecting the national interest and welfare. lIonestly, and frankly, we cannot now understand why, after 4 years of consideration, analysis, reanalysis, examination, reexamination, addition, and subtraction, the Taft-Ellender-Wagner bill must be further considered. We had understood, previously, that this very Congress, in spending thousands of dollars of the taxpayers' money on a joint congressional investigation, would learn and find the obvious and elementary facts of life on national housing. Dozens of hearings were held, thousands of persons interviewed, the facts were spread on the national table for even the blind to see, and a report was issued by that joint congressional investition committee. The report, briefly, spelled crisis and recommended a national housing program worthy of the name and the objectives of the American people. Therefore, we veterans hope to be excused if

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