The East Village’s public housing history

In 1934, the city bought a stretch of dilapidated tenements on Avenue A and East Third Street, then spent a year renovated them. They collectively became the first public housing in New York history.

Appropriately called the “First Houses,” they were home to 122 families in 1935. The three- and four-room pads cost a bargain $6.05 per room. This original photo is from the New York City Housing Authority.

At the opening ceremony, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt dedicated the houses. “There is sunshine in every window” exclaimed Mayor LaGuardia, commenting on the fact that 20 families were moving in from old-law apartments that had few or no windows at all.

In the 1930s the city went on to build massive, federally funded projects in Harlem, Williamsburg, and Red Hook. Today, about 350 developments house more than 400,000 people all over the five boroughs. 

Here’s a view of the houses today, from Avenue A. If you didn’t swing around the corner and see the sign marking them as public housing, you’d never know.


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12 Responses to “The East Village’s public housing history”

  1. anon Says:

    I think you mean the Lower East Side public housing history.

  2. james Says:

    Technically, the LES only applies to addresses lower than Houston. Historically though, the borders of the LES are a little less defined – I’ve seen it mentioned as high as 14th Street, but my grandmother, who grew up on 13th and Ave B, always called it the East Side and said that only recently have people referred to below 14th as the LES. And the East Village moniker is just nonsense.

  3. huner Says:

    hello, great site. first time on but will be returning daily. btw, did you pull the picture on this story? it’s not loading in firefox.

  4. pronto Says:

    I come from an Italian family that lived on 12th St and First Ave and calls themselves Lower East Siders.

  5. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks for the kind words. Nothing was pulled; the pictures should all load. Maybe Firefox was just acting weird?

  6. hunter Says:

    hmm, opened with safari and the image has only a small question mark on it. all the other images on the page load in firefox…….i must be missing a plug-in somewhere. either way, will be in touch as i love the stuff your’e writing about and will be posting some stories that you might dig as well. cheers

  7. Steve Says:

    ummm….actually, before Stuy Town/Peter Cooper Village were built, they were the site of gashouses (coal gasification plants). That area, believe it or not, was often called the Lower East Side, too. LES always was more of a socio-economic reference than actual geographic – obviously it had to be downtown and on the east side, but just as importantly it had to be poor and immigrant. East Village, though I live there and use the name, was invented by the real estate industry to sell the area by attaching the cache of Greenwich Village (much as they are still obsessed with naming and renaming districts).

  8. Whimsical and welcoming housing project signs « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] very first public housing development still exists in the East Village; the sign for this project is a little less spirited. Share this:TwitterLike this:LikeBe the first […]

  9. kenneth washington Says:


  10. A Brooklyn housing project praised by architects | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] development earned landmark status in 2003, the third public housing project in the city to do […]

  11. 1930s posters pleading for “planned housing” | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] his goals. Under his administration, the first city public housing development, simply named the First Houses, began accepting families in today’s East Village in […]

  12. Elliott Bettman Says:

    Ironically-Stuyvesant Town, which replaced the Gas District, (not to be confused with Bed Stuy in Brooklyn) actually LOOKS like a High Rise PJ. The actual High Rise Public Projects are FUBAR all over the country-although a bit Less so in NYC.

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