Now, as 50 years ago, the pauper population is predominantly Irish, both in the first and in the second generation. Germany is fairly well down in the list, while Italians and Russians (Hebrews) appear in a very favorable light.
With regard to the Hebrews it must be said that a great deal of charitable aid has been given them by fellow-religionists that does not consequently appear on the official records. But this aid is largely temporary in character, to tide the immigrant over his first few months here, and does not imply the existence of a large permanent pauper class.
Even this allowance does not have to be made for the Italians. Less, perhaps, is done for them by private charity than for any other class of people. There are no great Italian hospitals, orphanages, and charitable societies to aid Italians as there are Hebrew institutions for the Hebrews. Consequently the great bulk of Italian pauperism appears on public records, and that is seen to be little.
The census of 1890 gives the following figures as to criminality of different races:
Putting the matter in another way, Italians were 1.98 per cent of the foreign population, while Italian prisoners were 3.7 per cent of the foreign prison population. A like comparison for the Irish is 20.23 per cent to 35 per cent; English, 9.82 per cent to 12 per cent; Russians, 1.97 per cent to 1 per cent; and Germans, 30 per cent to 19 per cent.
Italians, then, are seen almost at the head of this list, and above the Irish; but in modification of this circumstance it must be remembered that the Italian population in general contained a far higher proportion of adult males (the criminal age and sex) than the Irish population, in which females and children were numerous.
From an inquiry made a year or two ago into rates of crime and pauperism in New York City certain results appear that may be embodied in the following table:
In this record it will be noticed that Italy makes a more favorable showing; the figures of institution population are averages for the ten years, 1885-1895, which affords a fair basis of comparison.
Coming to the second generation, the census of 1890 gives the following ratios of criminality for native whites of foreign parentage:
And the following for juvenile offenders:
Of the newer immigrants, then, Italy has the most doubtful record as to crime, not so bad as it has been believed, but still bad enough. The crimes most usually committed by Italians are crimes of violence, embracing murder, homicide, and the like; and the crime rate, principally from these causes, in their own country is high. There is reason to believe, however, that conditions there are changing for the better, which will cause a corresponding change in the character of future immigration. It has been claimed, and statistics are given to substantiate the claim, that the part of the crime rate due to homicide is diminishing regularly and continuously in Italy, owing to the general extension of the influences of civilization, such as education, development of commerce, transportation, communication by newspapers, mail, and telegraph. It is said, too, that emigration is helping in this process by, first, the greater prosperity brought to the country through returning emigrants, and, more powerfully, by the more enlightened ideas brought back by them.
As the Italian population increases here, moreover, the percentage of females and children increases, and this also will reduce their crime rate.
It is of especial interest to note how all these changes and distributions affected the tenement-house problem, and what tenement-house reform movements and the legislation resulting from them have been able to accomplish in remedying bad tenement conditions.
The agitation in New York City against tenement-house evils, begun by Gerrett Forbes, city inspector, in 1831, did not take effect in legislation especially dealing with tenement houses until 1867, when, as a result of the work of the council of hygiene, 3 years previously, a State tenement-house law was passed.
At this time, as has been noted in preceding pages, tenement houses were made over private residences, the "front and rear" double-barrack or single-barrack buildings extending nearly to the rear of the lot. (See cut, pp. 182-183, types 2,3,4, and 5.) In these types will be noticed the unventilated and unlighted inner rooms, and, in the worst examples, the insufficient yard space.
As to yard space, the law of 1867 provided for a distance of from 10 to 25 feet between front and rear tenements, according to their height, and for a "clear, open space" of 10 feet between the rear of any tenement house on the back part of any lot and any other building; but as discretionary power was given to the board of health to modify these distances in special cases, these provisions were largely nullified in practice.
With regard to the ventilation of inner rooms, the law provided that rooms of less than 100 square feet floor area, not communicating with the outer air, or without an open fireplace, should be provided with "special means of ventilation, by a separate air shaft extending to the roof or otherwise, as the beard of health may prescribe."
This provision applied to old tenement houses as well as to new ones, and many buildings were fitted with small ventilating flues of about 4 by 6 inches in size; but few were fitted with an "air shaft" in the sense in which the term would now be used.
In all tenement houses--those already erected as well as those to be built--sleeping rooms without external windows were to have transom windows opening into rooms already opening to the external air; and in all tenement houses to be erected every room was to have either an external window or a "ventilator of perfect construction." A minimum area of one-tenth of the superficial area of the room was prescribed for external windows, and the top of one window, at least, in a room was to be not less than 7 1/2 feet above the floor.
The rooms themselves, in new tenement houses, were to be at least 8 feet in height. It was also provided that there should be chimneys running through each set of apartments, giving opportunity for an open fireplace or grate or stove, and that all halls must open directly on the outer air.
These were provisions dealing with light and ventilation. Special sanitary provisions, to meet some of the more glaring sanitary evils noted by the council of hygiene, were as follows:
One of the worst features--perhaps the worst feature--of tenement house life at this time was the occupancy of cellars for living purposes. The law of 1867 sought to reduce this by providing that no cellar should be occupied unless it was at least 7 feet in height; had its ceiling at least 1 foot higher than the general ground level; had an open space across the front of at least 2 feet 6 inches wide and 6 inches deeper than the level of the cellar floor, and had a window at least 9 feet square.
Another great evil noted in sanitary reports up to this time was the insufficiency of the water supply in tenement houses in general. The law of 1867 provided that all new tenement houses must have water "furnished at one or more places" in the house or yard.
To remedy the appalling general filth, depicted so vividly and variously in successive sanitary reports, the law provided that all tenement houses, new or old, "shall be kept clean," and that the owner should "thoroughly cleanse all the rooms, passages, stairs, floors, windows, doors, walls, ceilings, privies, cesspools and drains," when required to do so by the board of health.
Other sanitary provisions were that yards and areas must be connected with sewers; that receptacles must be provided by the owner of each tenement house for garbage, ashes, and rubbish; that no horses, cows, sheep, goats, or swine should be kept in a tenement house; that contagious diseases must be reported, and that every tenement house or lodging house should be provided with "good and sufficient" water-closets or privies, not less than 1 to every 20 occupants of the house, to be connected with the sewers on streets where sewers existed.
No further important legislation was enacted until 1879, when, in consequence of renewed agitation of the tenement-house question from about 1877 on, another State law was passed.
This law remedied two defects in the old law with regard to yard spaces. The old law had provided for minimum spaces between front and rear tenements only in cases where a tenement was built on the front of a lot, at the rear of which a building already stood. The new law made the provisions apply also to cases where a tenement was erected on the rear of a lot at the front of which another building already stood. And with regard to yard room at the back of buildings, the old law had provided simply that the "clear open space of 10 feet" required, should be between the back of the tenement house, and "any other building," thus leaving it possible to build up to the rear line of the lot if the rear of the lot just back of it happened not to be built upon. The new law provided that the 10-foot space should extend between the back of the tenement and the rear line of the lot.
This provision stood directly in the way of building any more rear tenements of the old type, but additional ones may have been erected after this time, under the "discretionary power" which was in this case, as in many others, given to the board of health to modify the provisions of the law.
Up to this time there had been no legal limitation of the proportion of the building lot which might be covered by a tenement building, although the provisions as to distance between buildings had made some practical restriction. The law of 1879 provided that new tenements should not occupy more than 65 per cent of a lot, but as here, once more, discretionary power was given to the board of health to modify the letter of the law, it amounted practically to very little.
For the better ventilating of rooms the law provided that every room used as a bedroom should have an external window. This was a decided step in advance, but this, too, was nullified by giving "discretionary power" to the board of health, which might permit the omission of the external window if "sufficient light and ventilation should be otherwise provided, in a manner and upon a plan approved by" them.
The first definite provision made regard to overcrowding appears in this law, which requires in each tenement house, new or old, 600 cubic feet of air to each occupant.
The year that this law was enacted was further noteworthy in the history of the tenement house as the year of the invention and introduction of New York's most characteristic tenement house, the "dumb-bell" or "double-decker." (See cut, p. 483, No. 6.) This type of building was introduced as a "model" tenement, and has kept within the provisions of all the tenement-house laws, new and old, enacted before 1900, but it has proved to be one of the worst forms of housing ever employed.
The older types of the tenement house were rarely over 4 stories in height. The double-decker ran up, usually, to 6, often to 7 and 8, stories, thus cutting off more light and air from streets and yards, and gathering a denser population under one roof than the older tenements. Comparing the ground plans of the several types of buildings (see cut), it is seen that the yard spaces themselves are smaller for the double-deckers than was usual for the old "front and rear" buildings. The yard proper of the double-decker occupies only 10 per cent of the lot, as is the case with the worst of the old tenements, the building being kept within the limits of the law as to per cent of lot occupied by the side "air shafts" to be noted in the plan. These are, singly, usually 2 feet 4 inches in width throughout most of their length, or, taken together, as they adjoin one another in adjacent houses, 4 feet 8 inches, and from 50 to 60 feet in length. Surrounded as they are by walls from 60 to 70 feet high and with no intake of air at the bottom, it is plainly to be seen that they can afford very little light and almost no air, to say nothing of the impossibility of using them for the ordinary purposes of a yard.
The usefulness of the air shaft as a means of ventilation is not added to, moreover, by the practice tenants have of using it "as a receptacle for garbage and all sorts of refuse and indescribable filth thrown out of windows" which is "often allowed to remain rotting at the bottom of the shaft without being cleaned out."
It was said in the course of the last tenement-house investigation that the air shaft should be called a "foul air shaft;" that it might be designated as a "culture tube on a gigantic scale," and that it was simply "a stagnant well of foul air emptied from each one of the rooms opening upon it;" and many people testified that "the air from these shafts was so foul and the odors so vile that they had to close the windows opening into them, and in some cases the windows were permanently nailed up for this reason."
Within the "double-decker" the halls are nearly always totally dark, being lighted only from small windows opening on the stairs or from the front door. Of the 14 rooms usually found on each floor, only 2 receive light and air from the street; 2 from the 10-foot deep yard at the rear, and the remaining 10 from the narrow air shaft only.
The rooms in this type of tenement are usually very small. The front room is about 10 feet 6 inches by 11 feet 3 inches. That is used on hot nights as a sleeping room often by the whole family. The bedrooms proper are about 7 feet by 8 feet 6 inches, and are hardly large enough to contain a bed. These rooms being "lighted" from the air shaft are almost totally dark.
From this time on new tenements in New York City (the present borough of Manhattan) were almost exclusively built upon this plan, and by the present time, 1901, make up about 60 per cent of the total number.
In 1885 the first attempt was made to restrict the height of buildings, the State legislature in that year enacting that tenement houses should not be built higher than from 70 to 80 feet, according to the width of the street. But this provision did not reduce the "double-decker" appreciably from its usual height at that time.
The next important piece of tenement-house legislation was enacted in 1887.
This law remedied certain defects of the law of 1879 with regard to yard space by taking away the discretionary power of the board of health to reduce the 10-foot distance between the rear of buildings and the rear line of the lot, and by extending the provisions of the old law as to the percentage of lot to be occupied to old houses which were to be altered and enlarged. The provision of the law of 1879 on this head applied to new tenement houses only, so that it was quite possible for an owner to alter and enlarge an old tenement house so as to cover the entire lot if he chose.
This law also provided that if halls did not open directly on the external air by means of a window the tenement house could not be used; that water must be supplied "in sufficient quantity at one or more places on each floor;" that waterclosets "or other similar receptacles" shall be provided, not less than 1 for every 15 occupants of lodging houses, and not less than 1 for every 2 families in dwelling houses, and that "no privy vault or cesspool shall be allowed," "except when it is unavoidable," the board of health to see to it that no privy vault should remain connected with a tenement house later than January 1 of the following year, except in cases mentioned in the section.
The provision requiring 1 closet for every 2 families was repealed the following year, and the enactment made that 1 closet should be supplied for every 15 occupants in tenement houses as well as lodging houses, and not less than 1 on every floor.
The following tables give some idea of certain general changes in tenement districts and tenement conditions that had been going on in the years since the first tenement-house law was enacted.
The tables show changes in general density of population in the different wards between 1860 and 1890, the character of dwellings in the wards and the percentage of population in them, changes in the average number of tenants to each tenant house between 1864 and 1893, and other data bearing upon the general question.
It is seen here that in the lower West Side wards there has been a considerable decrease of general density, accompanied by an increase in the average density of population in each tenement house; that is, with the growth of business in this part of the city a large number of the old dwelling houses and tenements were torn down. Many of the residents of the neighborhood moved out altogether, decreasing the general density of population; many others of the poorer class, driven out of their former dwellings, crowded themselves into old residences not formerly classed as tenant houses or were accommodated in large tenements built on the sites of smaller ones. A like change is seen in the Sixth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth wards--increase of business causing decrease of general density and increase of tenement-house density. In the Fourth Ward, in the same district, a decrease in density has been accompanied by a decrease in the average number of tenants to a house, due probably to the falling out of use of some of the more notorious large tenements and the replacing of others by business buildings. In 1864 there were 486 tenements in this ward; in 1893, 473. This is the general region once occupied by the Irish and now by their successors, the Italians. Housing in this region is still largely of the old "barrack" and front-and-rear" type, although many double-deckers are to be seen.
The Hebrew district across the Bowery--the East Side wards up to Fourteenth street--however, is preeminently the region of the double- decker.
Businesses did not crowd greatly into this district, and as the fast-coming immigrants arrived, one great tenement after another of the "double-decker" type was erected on the sites of old private residences. Scarcely any other type of tenement building is seen here, and the capabilities of this type for congesting population are shown by the figures given in the tables for the wards where it flourishes. In Italian districts where the older type of tenement more largely prevails, tenement-house density is less, and also the rate of increase of tenement-house density between 1864 and 1893; while in Hebrew districts there is high tenement-house density and a tremendous increase of tenement-house density in the same period.
The tenement-house reform movement of 1894 is perhaps the most widely known of any that has been carried through in the city, but the legislation enacted in consequence of this movement in 1895 was not the most radical and effective of any. The law of 1895 took away the discretionary power of the board of health to reduce the prescribed distances between front and rear buildings, and provided for a 5-foot space at the rear of corner lots.
The discretionary power given to the board of health to increase the percentage of lot to be occupied had been taken away in 1891, except for lodging houses and the case of corner lots, but the law of 1895 restored it by providing while reenacting the 65 per cent limitation that "where the light and ventilation of such tenement * * * were, in the opinion of the superintendent of buildings, materially improved, he might permit such tenement or lodging house to occupy an area not exceeding 75 per cent of the lot." The law of 1895 made the first provision with regard to air shafts, no previous law having required them or prescribed any minimum size or shafts, no previous law having required them or prescribed any minimum size or width therefore. The provisions of this law were that no shaft or court of less area than 25-square feet should be considered as part of the free air space in computing the amount of lot covered by the building, that no air shaft 10 feet square and over should be covered with a roof or skylight, and that the superintendent of buildings might make and modify or change rules and regulations as to air shafts. The Greater New York charter 2 years later took away the power of the superintendent of buildings to alter regulations, although he still might make them, and made the first requirement of a minimum width for air shafts. The minimum width prescribed for these, both in corner and interior lots, was 2 feet 4 inches.
The law of 1895 also took away the discretionary power of the board of health to permit the lighting and ventilating of rooms by other means than the windows prescribed by the law of 1879; it provided that hallways should be kept lighted at night and all day if not lighted by a window; and that ceilings of cellars used as living rooms should be 2 feet instead of 1 foot (as had been before provided) above the general ground level.
A special sanitary provision was that no wall paper should be placed on any wall or ceiling until the old, if there was any, should have been removed.
Laws of 1891 and 1892 had provided that no tenement house should be used for a lodging house, private school, stable, or for the storage and handling of rags, except by permission of the board of health. The law of 1895 made these provisions absolute, except in the case of a private school, which the board of health might, at its discretion, allow. This law reduced the number of cubic feet of air required from 600 feet for each occupant to 400 feet for each adult and 200 feet for each child under 12.
The net result of all this legislation seems to have been a considerable improvement in special sanitary conditions, aside from the general question of light and ventilation.
Cellar dwellings ceased to be a crying evil, due partly, however, to the general increase of housing accommodations as well as to legislation, which, it is seen, was not very drastic as to cellar occupancy.
The general nuisance of foul and stagnant water in yards and cellars, so striking a feature of early tenement-house life, was greatly abated. The visitor of 1900 could go about dry-shod, at least, in tenement yards and courts where 35 years before the accumulation of what should have gone off in sewers and drains made access almost impossible.
But on the whole the tenement-house evil was still so serious in 1900 as to lead to the appointment of a State tenement-house commission to investigate the subject and make recommendations for legislation.
The most serious evils found by this commission in their task of investigation were, in their opinion-- Insufficiency of light and air, due to narrow courts or air shafts, undue height, and to the occupation by the building or by adjacent buildings of too great a proportion of lot area. (2) Danger from fire. (3) Lack of separate water closet and washing facilities. (4) Overcrowding. (5) Foul cellars and courts, and other like evils, which may be classed as bad housekeeping.
A special and alarming result of the lack of light and air which the commission felt to be the greatest evil of tenement-house conditions at present was "that the dread disease of pulmonary tuberculosis had become practically epidemic in this city." Testimony taken before the commission at its public hearings went to show "that there are over 8,000 deaths a year in New York City due to this disease alone; that there are at least 20,000 cases of well-developed and recognized pulmonary tuberculosis in the city and in addition a large number of obscure or incipient cases," and "that the conditions in the tenement houses were directly responsible for the tremendous extent and spread of this contagious disease."
The more noticeable points in the legislation recommended by the commission and enacted in 1901 may be briefly summed up as follows:
As to light and ventilation, the new law provides for tenement houses hereafter to be built that not more than 70 per cent of the ground space of interior lots, or 90 per cent of corner lots, shall be occupied, and that there shall be no discretionary power to modify this provision; that the height of a new building shall not "by more than one-third exceed the width of the widest street upon which it stands, and that each must have behind it a yard extending across the entire width of the lot, and varying in depth with the height of the building. A building 60 feet high except when on a corner lot, must have a rear yard at least 12 feet in depth. One foot of yard space is to be added or may be taken away for every 12 feet above or below 60 feet; but the minimum depth of any yard is to be 10 feet. Buildings upon corner lots must have yards of at least 10 feet in depth.The above provisions go but a little beyond those of the law that they superseded, the chief advantage arises in the taking away of discretionary power.
The provisions with regard to courts, however, are a long step in advance, and really do away with the necessity of strict provisions as to rear yard space. The fundamental idea of the different sections prescribing in detail the area of courts under different circumstances--whether outer or inner, on the lot line or within the lot--is that courts open to the street on one side (outer courts) shall be, generally at least, 12 feet in width for buildings 60 feet in height, and that court spaces completely surrounded by the walls of buildings (inner courts) shall, under usual circumstances, have an area of 24 by 24 feet for the same height (60 feet). The dimensions given will be increased or may be decreased with the increase and decrease of height of buildings, but outer courts are not under usual circumstances, to be less than 9 feet wide of inner courts to afford a space less than 21 by 21 feet.
It is also provided that inner courts must have ventilating ducts at the bottom not less than 5 square feet in area and communicating with the street or yard.
Turning to the plan of the "double-decker," it is seen that this type of building with its air shaft 4 feet 6 inches wide, having no ventilation from below, is disposed of for the future by the above provisions.
This law forbids in express terms the building of rear tenements, although other of its provisions would practically prevent their erection; and it also prescribes a minimum floor area for rooms. This is a better provision against overcrowding than one with regard to cubic air space in proportion to the number of occupants, which is extremely difficult to enforce. Moreover, as is stated in the commission's report (p. 132), "the room in new tenement houses have become so small that it is now necessary to lay down minimum dimensions." The dimensions prescribed are, no less than 120 square feet of floor area for at least one room in each apartment, and at least 70 square feet for each other room. (Sec. 70.)
To remedy special sanitary evils the law of 1901 provides, for new tenements, that no cellar may be occupied for living purposes, and that no basement may be occupied unless the room is 9 feet in height (instead of 7 feet, as in the former law) and has its ceiling 4 feet 6 inches above the surface of the adjoining ground (instead of 2 feet as before); and that in each tenement house there shall be a separate water- in a separate compartment, for every family. This last is an especially useful provision.
For already existing tenement houses the law provides that the provisions applying to new tenement houses with regard to percentage of lot to be occupied and to yard and court spaces must be complied with when any old tenement house is enlarged; and that any new rooms or halls constructed in old tenement houses must meet the requirements of the regulations for rooms and halls in new tenements.
An improvement of conditions such as are seen in tenement houses of types 3 and 4 (see cut, pp. 482-483), and which were untouched by previous legislation, is to be expected from provisions of the present law regarding the light and ventilation of rooms in already existing tenement houses. As is stated in the commission's report: "There are in this city a number of old, unsanitary tenement houses containing small dark rooms without any means of light or ventilation to the outer air. In some cases these rooms communicate with an adjoining room which opens to the street the yard, and in other cases there are even as many as 3 or 4 rooms in a line, only one of which communicates with the outer air. As the law since 1879 has required that every living room in a tenement house thereafter erected should have a window opening directly to the outer air, it is apparent that these buildings have for more than 20 years been violating fundamental sanitary rules."
To meet this evil the present law provides that each room in already existing tenement houses must have either a window opening on the street or yard, or upon a court of not less than 25 square feet in area, or must have a sash window at least 15 feet square opening into an adjoining room which has an external window. It is furthermore provided that an inner room that has to be ventilated by such a sash window must have at least 60 square feet of floor space, 600 cubic feet of air space and at least 600 cubic feet of air space for each occupant.
The practical result of this provision will be that in houses 4 rooms deep (type 3, cut, p. 482) sash windows will be provided and fairly good ventilation secured, while in tenements of types 4 and 5 one of the dark inner rooms will probably be knocked out to make a court or air shaft of the size required to ventilate the other inner rooms.
The double-decker," however, which type is seen in about 60 per cent of the tenement houses now on Manhattan Island, is left practically untouched by the present law, except that one finger is laid on the air shaft evil by providing for a door at the bottom of the shaft giving sufficient access to it to enable it to be properly cleaned out.
A most important provision of the new law is one which requires the absolute removal, by January 1, 1903, of all school sinks and privy vaults. These latter were prohibited, except in special cases, by the law of 1887, and the great majority of those existing at that time have been done away with. But the school sink--a long vault lined with a sort of iron trough, and arranged to be flushed from tine to time by running water into the sewer--which came into use in the older type of tenement houses to take the place of the prohibited privy vault, is practically the same thing as the vault, and is as great a nuisance, if not greater, since it admits gases from the sewer to be added to the natural foul emanations of the vault. The commission's report says: "These school sinks were, in nearly every case, found by the commission's sanitary inspectors to be in a horrible condition and a serious menace to the health of the occupants of such houses and the neighboring houses. From their construction it is very difficult to flush them, and the inspectors found many cases where they had not been flushed for weeks. In summer the stench is intolerable, and unquestionably causes a good deal of sickness."
No previous tenement-house law had attempted to deal with the social and moral evils arising from life in the tenements, except indirectly by provisions such as those prescribing that halls should be lighted, and that access to all rooms must be had without passing through bedrooms.
The present law, however, directs a special series of provisions against prostitution in tenement houses. Women carrying on the trade of prostitution in tenement houses are to be considered vagrants, and punished by commitment to the county jail. If a tenement house is used for immoral purposes with the permission of the owner, the tenement building itself shall be subject to a penalty of $1,000; if so used with the consent of the lessee of the whole house, the lease shall be terminable. "Permission of owner or lessee" is to be assumed if proceedings for the removal of the offending tenants be not commenced within 5 days of notice of the unlawful use. The general reputation of the premises in the neighborhood is to be competent evidence. (Secs. 141-145.)
These provisions are thoroughly practical in character, and should bring about considerable improvement in moral conditions if enforced.
The question of enforcement of the laws, indeed, has been all along quite as important as that of the provisions of the laws themselves. That an excellent law is enacted is no indication that the good results expected will arise from it in practice.
The tenement-house commission of 1900, in the course of their investigation, found that of 333 new tenement houses in course of construction which were inspected in the borough of Manhattan, only 15 were found in which there were no violations of law. In the other boroughs there was no such house found in which there was no violation. Of 286 tenements inspected with reference to percentage of lot occupied, 282, or 99 per cent, covered more than 65 per cent of the lot; 274, or 96 per cent, more than 70 per cent of the lot, and 88, or 31 per cent, more than 75 per cent of the lot--the extreme limit of discretion given to the building department. Twenty-nine occupied 80 per cent of lot area or over.
The sanitary provisions of successive laws have not been systematically or fully enforced, the present practice of the department charged with their administration being to take action in regard to sanitary evils only upon complaint of individual citizens-- they themselves taking no initiative in the matter.
Such failures of the law are due partly to provisions in the law itself, allowing officials discretionary power to modify its requirements, partly to simple neglect in its enforcement. City officials may not be interested in carrying out the law, or they may be positively unable to do so, owing to the inadequacy of the administrative force at their disposal.
The tenement-house legislation of the present year has endeavored to do away with these hindrances to tenement-house reform by omitting to grant discretionary power as far as possible, by making the desired reforms depend rather upon construction, which if once secured enforces automatically the wished-for change, than upon inspection, which may at any time slacken up or be omitted altogether, and by providing for a separate tenement-house department, which shall stand before the people as solely responsible for the enforcement of the law and shall have a sufficient staff for that purpose.
From the tenement-house legislation of 1901 as a whole may reasonably be expected a material improvement in conditions of lighting and ventilation in new tenement houses and those of the oldest types, but not in the "double-decker." A gradual diminution of tuberculosis and other bad physical conditions arising from insufficient light and air may be expected to follow.
The special sanitary provisions of the law will do away with much of the open offensiveness still remaining and of the disease arising from this cause.
Social and moral evils will be somewhat reduced, directly by the provisions against prostitution, and indirectly by the provisions that make the tenement house a better dwelling generally. The administrative features of the law promise a more adequate enforcement than previous laws have had.
But no radical reduction of overcrowding, the great evil of the tenement, may be looked for. The provisions as to the height of buildings, yard spaces, room spaces, and so forth, will slightly reduce the density of population for separate houses in new tenements, but they leave the already existing density untouched. Furthermore, as new tenement houses replace private residences with the growth of the tenement districts, the general density of population for the city will increase.
All that may be expected from the new law in this regard is that it will check a possible rapid acceleration of the rate of increase of density that seemed impending under the law just superseded, with the pressure of population on housing accommodations.
If the measures adopted in the last tenement-house law, greatly as they improved upon former laws, do not, after all, fully meet the situation, it is an indication that no legislation practically attainable can do so. The commission had the problem plainly and without disguise before them; they also had clearly in mind the measures needed to do away with certain features of the evils noted; they found, however, that the enforcement of these would involve so much expense to owners, both by way of reduction of income from reduction of space to be occupied and by actual outlay for construction, as to put a stop to building operations. It was their conclusion, after thorough study of the conditions, that "adequate light and air perfect sanitation, even passable home environment, can not be provided by the best tenement house which can be built with sufficient prospect of income to warrant its erection," and that, since "tenement-house reform would not be practical which went so far as to put a stop to building new tenement houses," nor would it "if it compelled such extensive changes in old tenements that owners would turn them to other uses," they must recommend legislation which met the evils only in part. It is hard to see how any future legislation could overcome these difficulties.
On the whole, it does not seem that the newer immigration offers any greater or more serious problems than the old, except in so far as they add to the total numbers and increase the general overcrowding.
In the newer period general health conditions have certainly improved. There is no more of the sickness among immigrants due to unsanitary conditions on the passage over. Under the present immigration regulations only immigrants of fair physical condition are admitted to the country. In the city, notwithstanding bad tenement conditions that might be improved, the general death rate has fallen greatly since the fifties, due to a more enlightened sanitary system.
The newer immigrants arrive here at no lower social level, to say the least, than did their predecessors. Their habits of life, their general morality and intelligence cannot be called decidedly inferior. No account of filth in daily surrounding habits of immigrant Irish and even Germans. The Italian ragpicker was astonishingly like his German predecessor, and the Italian laborer is of quite as high a type as the Irish laborer of a generation ago.
In some cases the newer immigrants have brought about positive improvement in the quarters they have entered. Whole blocks have been transformed from nests of pauperism and vice into quiet industrial neighborhoods by the incoming of Italians and Hebrews.
Simple overcrowding, however, is an evil in itself, and when this takes place it becomes desirable to encourage tendencies toward movement out of the cities on the part of immigrants. How far this movement has already proceeded for certain of the newer immigrants may be seen in another part of this volume.
It should be remembered in making plans for the dispersion of immigrants how strong are certain inducements of real and genuine advantage for them to remain in a large city. That there are advantages offered in cities is shown by the fact that the native born are flocking there as well as the foreign born. The immigrants' journey across the ocean is as much a part of the great general movement from the country to the city going on all over the world for some years as is the journey of the American lad from the country town to the city.
Primarily, the city is the great industrial center. The principal occupation to be found by the immigrant in country districts-- agricultural labor--must probably be regarded as, on the whole, less remunerative than any other. Mr. George K. Holmes, Assistant Statistician of the Department of Agriculture, gives the following estimates of actual earnings in 1890 of each large class of workers for hire (the large groups given by the Census Office) made by experts and not hitherto published:
The last class, one-third of the wage-earners, received one-half of the earnings of labor; the class of agricultural laborers, one-fifth of the wage-earners, received less than one-seventh of the total earnings.
An allowance of actual yearly earnings for each person in each class (taking count of unemployment) would be, on this basis, as follows:
Other advantages offered by cities are substantial ones to the immigrant. In the cities are various institutions for the help and comfort of the poor that provide what they cannot easily provide for themselves--the hospitals, dispensaries, charitable societies, schools, libraries, social settlements, and all such things.
Before the immigrant is too severely condemned for lingering in the cities such considerations as these should be taken into account.
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