All Commentary
Tuesday, May 1, 1962

One Big Housing Project: A cop’s-eye view of New York City


Mr. Morano is a member of the Tactical Pa­trol Force of the New York City Police De­partment.

As one policeman to another, a New York City Housing Authority officer once told me of a standing joke in his circle. “Soon,” said he, “all New York will be one big housing project, and the regular police department will become just another branch of the Housing Authority.”

A joke, then, but tour New York City with me if you wish to see the inevitable results of compul­sory collectivism in the United States. Here may be found, as in East Germany, proof that collec­tivism does not work.

Two years ago when the Tacti­cal Patrol Force was first instituted by Police Commissioner Kennedy, its purpose was to send into the “rougher” areas a group of six-foot judo-trained cops to suppress crime. Today, as a mem­ber of “Kennedy’s Commandos,” I can attest that there are few neighborhoods that haven’t re­quired our services. In other words, there are few “decent” res­idential areas left in New York.

Neighborhoods that up to five or ten years ago were beautiful, peaceful—yes, even exclusive—have been transformed into a jungle in which people fear to walk the streets. I refer to such areas as Morningside Heights around Columbia University, the West End and Riverside Drive, and right up to the doorstep of the once swank Central Park West apartments. Indeed, I challenge anyone to name for me the “nice” neighborhoods in Manhattan—or in any of the other boroughs of New York. In the Prospect Avenue section of the Bronx, drunks, ad­dicts, and prostitutes now slouch in entrances where uniformed doormen once stood. The beauti­ful Fordham Road area is starting down the same path, and its main drag has been dubbed “Terror Street” by the New York Journal American.

Contradictory Actions

Ironically, most of this condi­tion results indirectly from pro­motion by the city planners and politicians of the very things they claim to be fighting. They clamor for “more and better trained police” to patrol a jungle of their own making. They promise to fight with their right hand what their left is doing.

The transformation of attrac­tive neighborhoods into crime-ridden jungles is largely the result of political actions along socialis­tic lines. Nor can it be said that this leaning toward socialism comes unconsciously or from forgivable mistakes.

For example, during the recent New York mayorality campaign a spokesman for Robert Wagner boasted, “There are more people in New York City living in public housing than the entire population of New Haven, Connecticut.” What a thing to boast about when it can be demonstrated that pub­lic housing—apart from being morally wrong—is economically unsound! Stated simply, it just doesn’t work.

Environmental Determinism

To begin with, the advocates of public housing are what psychol­ogists call environmental deter­minists: they believe that in tak­ing “the boy off the farm,” they can successfully “take the farm out of the boy,” or that building castles for beggars will emit princes. They cannot or will not see that the buildings in areas they call “slums” are for the most part structurally solid and archi­tecturally handsome. The staid brownstone buildings containing huge studio apartments would be considered swank by more appre­ciative tenants. The wrong is not in the buildings—but in the peo­ple who occupy them. This may be observed firsthand by visiting any of the areas mentioned above.

As if to further guarantee that destruction by the tenants will go unrepaired, politicians raise tax assessments to punish landlords who improve or repair their prop­erties. Pretending surprise at what they have produced, the “planners” set about condemning whole neighborhoods, tearing down buildings to be displaced with morbid housing projects.

A few years ago, a leading New York paper told how the newest apartment houses in New York had disintegrated into New York‘s newest slums. Crime that was sup­posed to be “born of the slums” was occurring with alarming rapid­ity in the new projects. The dark, empty grounds of the housing projects invite gang-fights and muggings, women are raped in the elevators, obscenities are scribbled on walls, and the corri­dors reek of urine. The political planners have an answer, of course: “More and better trained Housing Police” to keep the ten­ants from destroying that which was given to them.

The old adage, “Easy come—easy go,” applies not only to a lazy playboy inheriting his father’s fortune, but also to a tramp showered with taxpayers’ money.

The Unseen Consequences

The humanitarian planners can see the housing projects they have built with taxpayers’ money, and imagine how noble they are to have provided apartments for peo­ple who could not afford them. But what they do not see in their blindness is the unbought milk and children’s shoes and clothing and better apartments that could otherwise have been afforded by the people from whom the taxes were taken. For every dollar’s worth of “good” political planners do, there is at least a dollar’s worth of harm.

The only way in which politi­cians can raise the level of living of those who occupy these projects is to lower the level of living of the families who are struggling to stay out of them. Any new tax burdens on such families reduce their chances of staying inde­pendent, and may thus force them into a project.

Is that what the planners want? Well, bear in mind the political power that is inherent in building projects, and remember that the numbers of people thus “aided” are now the source of arrogant boasts by politicians. Who would dare vote himself out of his own home or apartment? There are so many New Yorkers living in pub­lic housing that no New York poli­tician dares oppose it—and hope to get elected.

If there is a salvage value in the New York situation, perhaps it is for others to observe and learn that political “gifts” are a club with which voters may be beaten into line.