In 1937, New Orleans became the first city in the United States to benefit under the Wagner Act for the eradication of "slums" by providing housing for low income families.
Act No. 275, known as the Housing Act saw the creation of a Housing Authority in every city in Louisiana with a population over 20,000 to oversee the housing "projects".
The "projects" were originally envisioned as replacement housing for "negroes" living in "slums". To quote some quotables of the day-
"These projects were part and parcel of the relief program born of the depression to assist families who had become, to some extent at least, potential charges on the state for adequate housing, due to the lack of their sufficient income."
"(the) projects were organized not for profit, but for the sole benefit of the underprivileged who, theretofore lived in sections of New Orleans known as slums."
Occupants living on the sites chosen for construction of the first projects, the Magnolia, later known as the C.J. Peete, and the St. Thomas, generally found themselves being moved from their homes whether they liked it or not. Owners who held out for higher prices on their properties at the construction sites tended to find their properties summarily condemned and their values significantly lower than when they had started.
At the time of first occupancy, in 1941, rentals for the housing projects, based on income, were from $8.25 a month for a one bedroom apartment to $22.00 a month for a three bedroom. The highest income acceptable for admission was $1325.00 a year unless the applicants had three or more dependents in which case the maximum was $1475.00.
Although the official reports of the Housing Authority from 1937 to1964 are unremarkable, except for the hundreds of pictures of project residents enjoying basket weaving, homemaking and other crafts classes, there are some amusing items.
For instance, on January 1,1949, after a period of investigation, the Housing Authority of New Orleans decided to permit television sets with the following restrictions:
The residents of the projects were not immune to the throes of McCarthyism in the '50's. All tenants and applicants were required to sign a form indicating they belonged to no subversive groups.
Poor construction and vandalism were a constant topic in the Housing Authority's annual reports and the developments today are in a poor state. Their future is uncertain.
Completed in 1954, the Desire Housing Development originally consisted of 262 two story, wood & brick veneer buildings on a 97.2 acre site. There were 1860 original units. Five hundred and eight were built by Pittman Construction Co. and 1352 by R.F. Ball of San Antonio. The cost of construction in 1954 dollars was $23,686,436.
Five of the original buildings were demolished after being damaged by Hurricane Betsy in 1965. At one time there were also two schools on the site; Dunn, an elementary school, and Moton. Both of these schools have since been demolished as well. The Desire is the only development not constructed of solid masonry on concrete slabs.
The original population, with first occupancy in 1956, was 9485. By 1958 this had grown to 13,540 and 20 years later the population was still over 10,000. The 1980 census reported 8575 occupants and the 1990 census counted a population of 4164. The most recent records say there are 2175 occupants.
Plans, already initiated, call for demolition of 40% of the development with creation of homeownership opportunities.
The first phase of the Florida development was constructed between 1941 and 1946, consisting of 47 two and three story buildings, totaling 500 units on an 18.5 acre site. In 1953 an additional 234 units in 67 buildings on a 7.6 acre site were built. Presently there are 67 buildings, with 734 units, occupying 26.1 acres.
Originally slated for white occupancy, the Florida development fell under the provisions of the Lanham Act for accommodation of workers in essential war industries. After the war, occupancy restrictions were changed to permit use for veterans, servicemen and their families.
Plans call for demolition of 45% of the development and homeownership opportunities to be created. Those plans are currently on hold.
The C.J. Peete Housing Development, originally the Magnolia Project, built by the R.P. Farnsworth Co. of New Orleans, saw first phase construction between 1939 and 1941 on 23.75 acres with 723 units built. Phase two was constructed between1953 and 1956 on 17.7 acres with 680 units built. Today there are 1403 units. Occupancy between 1980 and 1990 remained fairly steady, contrary to the other developments, and has grown somewhat.
Construction on the B.W. Cooper development, formerly the Calliope Project, by the George A. Fuller Co. of Washington D.C., began in 1939 and was completed in 1941. The second phase was awarded to R.P. Farnsworth, Inc on March 19, 1952. The B.W. Cooper consists of 1550 units on 56 acres. As of December of 1994 occupation was 3623.