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War Housing

This article appeared in the City of Dayton Annual Report for 1943

War Housing


Fowler S. Smith

Manager, War Housing Center

     The beginning of 1943 in the Dayton area which comprises the City of Dayton, Montgomery County and the portion of Greene County which includes Wright Field, Air Service Command, and Patterson Field, found us in the midst of a heavy in-migration of war workers which had been going on all through the preceding year.

     These workers had been coming in from all directions.  On their arrival, their first demand, of course, was for immediate shelter in the form of sleeping rooms.  Very soon afterwards this meant an application for a house or apartment to permit them to bring their families into the Dayton area.

     Dayton’s critical housing situation is not an entirely new problem.  The normal vacancies in a city of 200,000 population should be about 5 per cent.  In Dayton, as far back as 1937, our vacancy rate was less than 2 per cent and since 1940 the percentage of vacancies has never been above a small fraction of 1 per cent.

     On November 12, 1942, the National Housing Agency opened the Dayton War Housing Center in order to centralize, as far as possible, the demand for houses, apartments, and sleeping rooms for war workers.  During the year we have become well organized and now have a large number of sleeping rooms for both men and women, listed by zones, and a certain number of furnished and unfurnished houses and apartments.  We are in daily touch, not only with the various rental agencies, but also with the various private builders, who keep us posted as to where and when different types of housing will be ready for occupancy.

     Up to October 30, 1943, we have received 11,459 applications for dwelling units and 8,215 applications for sleeping rooms. In the latter case, a large percentage of the rooms are occupied by two or more people.  Each application, whether for a dwelling unit or a sleeping room, involves two or more interviews.  Each applicant is given at least two addresses, and before they leave the office, the room or house owner is contacted to be sure that they are at home and that the room or apartment is still available.

        The building program in 1942 consisted of 4018 housing units.  From January 1, 1943, to October 25, 1943, we have completed ready for occupancy, 3650 housing units of all types and 894 dormitory units for single girls.  We have under construction in the Dayton area, 2464 units which will be completed by January 1, making an estimated total for 1943 of 6114 housing units and 894 dormitories.

     The construction of private homes by local builders will show about the same number as were built in 1942, and the large increase is mostly in temporary structures, both housing units and dormitories, put up by the Federal Public Housing Authority under the National Housing Agency.

     About August 1, through the efforts of the emergency committee, the Dayton area was changed from a No.1 critical area to a No. 2 critical area, which cut off at once the heavy in-migration for the Air Fields, government agencies and industry.  Since that time, in the War Housing Center, our demand for sleeping rooms has been sharply reduced, but our demand for housing units remains constant.  We think this is explained by the fact that persons now living in sleeping rooms or crowded quarters are anxious to bring their families here and improve their living conditions.

     The construction of new housing by private contractors, as well as all public work, has been slowed down very badly by a shortage of labor and, as a result, many properties that would normally have been ready for occupancy by families in late summer are not yet completed.

     The public and private conversion program, although started in November, 1942, did not really commence to show results until late spring or early summer.  At the present time, however, it is moving along very satisfactorily—65 units of housing have been completed and occupied; 148 units are actually under contract for construction; and 38 units are now being figured by contractors and should be under construction within a few days.

     The former Harbour Apartment building (now the Newcom Plaza) located on the southwest corner of Main Street and Monument Avenue and the Central Theological Seminary, off of Huffman Avenue, are very good examples of our Public Conversion program.  Both of these buildings, although perfectly sound, have been vacant for a number of years and a definite menace to the entire community. When the construction work is completed, the former structure will have thirty-three modern apartments and the latter will have sixteen.  All apartments will include individual baths and kitchens.

     The advantage in the use of existing structures in this conversion program, rather than the building of less satisfactory new units, is that, from a community point of view, it will mean a definite improvement in many neighborhoods, a permanent asset to the community, and in many ways a very definite local advantage.  The building of temporary government units, which must by provisions of law, be removed within two years after the end of the war emergency, was determined by N. H. A. to be the best way to get the most available housing in the shortest time out of a limited amount of critical material and labor.

     These projects are not built with any idea of permanent use and are not very attractive in the community, but they are strictly sanitary, afford comfortable housing and have proven a great boon to many families who could not have continued their employment here or to families who were forced to find new quarters through the sale of the properties in which they were residing.

     The trend of private construction during 1943 has been very largely towards multiple unit apartments rather than single houses, and although on account of the scarcity of critical materials, the size of these properties has been held down to the minimum, the final result in the community is a large number of permanent apartments, thoroughly modern, and a very definite asset.

     The War Housing Center, at the close of its first year, has succeeded in establishing itself rather well as an institution, publicly operated, to care for the various phases of housing in the entire Dayton area.  There have been many problems to work out in contacts with the immigrant war workers who come to the Center for help in locating suitable housing accommodations.

     Associations with the several social agencies in Dayton have been mutually helpful, especially on emergency cases of eviction, or where, because of large families, it has been impossible for the applicants to locate suitable quarters for themselves.