Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2013

Degree Type



In the United States, public housing conjures up negative images of decaying high-rise buildings, places ridden crime, drugs and gangs. This stereotype largely represents society's attitude towards the urban poor that has evolved since the housing movement began in the 1920s. When support for public housing took hold, the United States were living in tenements houses under the most horrific conditions. It is easy to forget that public housing was created in order to provide safe, affordable spaces for working and middle class families to live. However, policy changes, mismanagement, and inadequate funding are among the several factors that changed an image of public housing that most never knew. Public housing developments are now occupied by the poorest families, many who are on welfare, and have little chance at upward mobility. The evolution is best seen by examining the history of New York City public housing and New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). As one on the first large scale housing developments of its kind, the Red Hook Houses best illustrate how the image of public housing has changed over time. In this paper, I first examine the early beginnings of the housing movement in the context of New York City public housing and the Red Hood community. I then describe how racial segregation, policy shifts and the advent of two drug epidemics forever changed those in the Red Hook Houses. As violence peaked in the late 1980s, the murder of an elementary school principal signaled a tipping point. The neighborhood was forced to come together and confront its tough reputation. Today, the future of public housing has never been more uncertain. Although some might argue that New York has the best public housing in the world, I argue that public housing will become the tenements of this era of the NYCHA does not return to the principles on which it was founded.