Housing

Several different and conflicting housing policies, enacted before the 1960s, created the zone of conflict around housing in Newark:

In the 1930s, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which was supposed to stimulate housing purchase by offering mortgage insurance for banks to lend, essentially “redlined” all of Newark sending a message to whites that your future was in the suburbs.  Simultaneously, their policies denied loans to blacks, keeping them in separate communities and denying African Americans opportunities available to whites. “Redlining” got its name from the practice of lending officers who would draw red lines on maps to mark off neighborhoods that would be denied mortgages or loans.

Privately owned housing in Newark, in neighborhoods where black people were allowed to live, was in many cases substandard and maintained by absentee landlords who had moved to the suburbs. A 1956 issue of Atlantic Monthly magazine described Newark as a “vast scrawl of Negro slums and poverty, a festering center of disease, vice, injustice, crime.” Federally financed Urban Renewal came into these neighborhoods, purchased the property from eager owners, but without a requirement of sufficient housing to replace that which had been demolished. The result was relocation into similar housing or public housing.  

Federal dollars invested in Newark produced vast tracts of high and low rise public housing. This housing was at first segregated. But by 1955, according to a study on urban renewal, there were more African Americans than whites in public housing, and the flight of white tenants showed no signs of slackening. By the 1960s, the ratio changed from 77% white to 66% black occupancy in seventeen projects.

In 1964, a group of white organizers from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) chose Newark to began organizing one of their interracial movements of the poor, and housing became its major focus. The organization they formed, the Newark Community Union Project (NCUP), was composed of about 12 to 15 organizers, half of them black, living in the area called the Lower Clinton Hill. The other half were white college students, drop-outs or graduates, with two black college students. They organized people based on what the people wanted to see done on their blocks, the intention being to pull the block groups together for collective action from time to time.

NCUP organizers, black and white, organized rents strikes as well as other targeted protests against storeowners who charged unfair prices, and against police misconduct. Rent strikes were illegal in New Jersey, but at the urging of NCUP tenants withheld their rents to protest high rents and unsafe and unsanitary living conditions maintained by the landlords.

NCUP organizers knew that withholding the money from the landlord would result in the tenant being taken to court, so they arranged lawyers to argue the cases. The rent strikes took the organizers into a realm of neighborhood organizing where people became more empowered by doing things together, taking on more and more issues, and helping one another.  At its height, NCUP had approximately 250 members.

NCUP organizers believed blacks and whites could work together to resolve issues like housing, welfare reform, and police accountability. Their integrated project held together until the 1967 Rebellion moved the primacy of race onto front stage.

References:

Kevin Mumford, Newark: A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America

Clip from the film “We Got to Live Here,” in which residents of Clinton Hill describe the condition of housing in their neighborhood and how “slums” are created. — Credit: Robert Machover

Map of Housing Conditions

Map of Housing Conditions

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Map of “Generalized Environments” in Newark which shows the conditions of buildings in the city in the 1960s. Predominantly white neighborhoods show “substantially sound” housing, while black neighborhoods show “predominantly blighted” conditions. — Credit: Newark Public Library

Clip from the film “Troublemakers” covering the organizing activities of the Newark Community Union Project (NCUP) for better housing conditions in the city. Some of the tactics that NCUP used in housing organizing were: submitting official complaints, petitioning the Newark Human Rights Commission, and organizing rent strikes to force landlords to make repairs. — Credit: Robert Machover

Explore The Archives

  • Clip from the film “We Got to Live Here” in which residents of Clinton Hill describe the conditions that they live in. As Newark’s white populations moved into the suburbs with the assistance of FHA loans and the GI Bill, many of the city’s Black residents found themselves trapped, paying high rents for run-down apartments with neglectful or absentee landlords. — Credit: Robert Machover
  • Clip from an interview with Newark Community Union Project (NCUP) member Carol Glassman, in which she discusses organizing for better housing conditions in Newark. Ms. Glassman discusses NCUP’s protest activities, the lack of effective support from the Newark Human Rights Commission, and organizing a rent strike with the United Community Corporation (UCC). — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries
  • Clip from the film “Troublemakers” in which Newark residents describe housing problems in their neighborhood to Newark Community Union Project (NCUP) organizer, Jesse Allen. — Credit: Robert Machover
  • Clip from the film “We Got to Live Here” in which a Central Ward resident describes the creation of public housing projects in the “ghetto.” In many northern cities, public housing projects were almost exclusively developed in lower-class, predominantly Black neighborhoods. — Credit: Robert Machover
  • Clip from an interview with United Community Corporation (UCC) member Edna Thomas, in which she describes the conditions in public housing projects in Newark. Even though many of the projects were newly built, they were poorly constructed and maintained, and residents were routinely blamed for the unsafe and unsanitary conditions. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries
  • Rats, Roaches, and Ridiculous Rents Flyer (1964)

    Flyer distributed by the Clinton Hill Neighborhood Council and the Newark Community Union Project (NCUP) announcing a demonstration to protest the eviction of Mary Martin in August of 1964. Unscrupulous landlords, like Ms. Martin’s, were slow to make repairs, but quick to evict tenants, who received little assistance from the city’s housing authorities. — Credit: Newark Public Library
  • Photos of Addonizio on Slum Tour (August 18, 1964)

    Newspaper photos of Mayor Addonizio’s “inspection tour of ‘slum pockets” in Central Ward and Clinton Hill neighborhoods. Addonizio was prompted to personally inspect housing conditions after the Clinton Hill Neighborhood Council and Newark Community Union Project held rent strike demonstrations in the city that week. — Credit: Newark Public Library
  • Rent Strike Flyer (1964)

    Flyer distributed by the Clinton Hill Neighborhood Council and the Newark Community Union Project (NCUP) to rally support for a rent strike demonstration in August of 1964. A rent strike was a tactic used by tenants to force a landlord to make repairs to a housing unit by withholding rent payment until repairs were made. — Credit: Newark Public Library
  • Rats, Roaches, and Ridiculous Rents Demonstration (1964)

    Demonstration organized by the Clinton Hill Neighborhood Council and Newark Community Union Project (NCUP) to protest housing conditions in Clinton Hill. The picketers supported a rent strike by tenants to protest “rats, roaches, and ridiculous rents.” The photograph was marked to identify NCUP organizer, Tom Hayden. — Credit: Newark Public Library
  • Police Memo on Rent Strike Demonstration (1964)

    Memorandum from the Newark Police Department detailing their surveillance of a rent strike demonstration at the corner of Clinton and Badger Avenues. The demonstrations were organized to support a rent strike by tenants to protest “rats, roaches, and ridiculous rents.” — Credit: Junius Williams Papers
  • Flyer to Picket in Suburbs (1965)

    Flyer distributed by the People’s Action Group (UCC Area Board 3) and the Newark Community Union Project to protest the eviction of Mrs. Emma Gaskins. To protest the eviction of Mrs. Gaskins, NCUP and the People’s Action Group distributed this flyer in Millburn, where her landlord Phil Kaufman lived, to encourage the man’s neighbors to talk with him about the conditions in his rental units. — Credit: Newark Public Library