Photo: US Library of Congress (1941) .
Should pre-WWII projects paid out of FDR-administration military budgets
to provide off-base housing for civilian families working on military
projects be considered New Deal?
Under Public Act 671, approved June 28, 1940, the United States Housing
Authority was authorized, with the approval of the President, to cooperate
in making necessary housing available for persons engaged in national
defense activities. Under this act, the Housing Authority and the Navy and
the War Departments were permitted to construct public housing at or near
military or naval posts for married enlisted men and for employees of the
Navy and the War Departments who were assigned to duty at naval or military
posts. The determination of which agency of the government should construct
the housing rested with the President. When housing was built by the Army or
the Navy, the Housing Authority was authorized to furnish funds and
technical assistance for such construction. Such housing was to be leased
to, and operated by, the War or the Navy Departments, with the title
remaining with the United States Housing Authority.
On September 9, 1940, Public Act No. 781 (76th Congress) gave funds
amounting to $100,000,000 to the President, for allocation to the Navy and
the War Departments, for the acquisition of land and the construction of
housing unit near posts and bases and privately owned industrial plants
engaged in defense activities. The average unit cost of such housing
projects was not to exceed $3,500 per family unit, including the acquisition
of land, installation of necessary utilities, roads, walks, accessories, and
collateral costs. By the close of 1940, the Navy had been granted a total
of $56,822,500 for the construction of defense housing. Part of this amount
came from funds granted by Congress to the Federal Works Administrator
(under the Lanham Act, Public Act No. 849, approved October 14, 1940) to
provide housing for persons engaged in national-defense activities,
including the Army and the Navy.
was a housing development for Newport News shipyard
workers located at the James River Bridge in Newport News and named after Homer
, President of the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock
Company through two world wars and the Great Depression. “Defense
housing. Ferguson Park, Newport News, Virginia. A 1200-unit project built by
the Navy at a cost of $3,500,882 to house civilian workers employed in the
shipbuilding yards. Units have from one to four bedrooms and rentals range
from $30 to $35 a month, including up to $3.70 worth of
utilities.“ Nearby Aberdeen Gardens
, a PWA
project, also housed mainly Newport News shipyard workers.
The primary problem in construction was obtaining and holding labor. This
was attributable to the site's relative isolation and to the fact that there
was plenty of work to be done at the nearest population centers, Norfolk,
Newport News, and other Hampton Roads communities. It was especially
difficult to get pier builders.
Newport News, Va. - As a result of the expansion of shipbuilding activities
at Newport News, Va., housing accommodations for the influx of workers were
inadequate and gradually became nonexistent. To establish suitable and
sufficient living quarters for workers and their families, a 1,200-unit
defense housing project was put under construction on November 1, 1940.
Construction consisted of 100 twelve-family units with all necessary
utilities, roads, and accessories. Foundations were of concrete; exterior
walls and roofs, of prefabricated metal sections. Exterior walls were
covered with asphalt-impregnated fiber board and asbestos shingles. Roof
covering was of metal. Each twelve-family unit was a two-story structure
with several one-story extensions. One of the main factors underlying the
choice of design was the bolted type of construction which would facilitate
the removal of the structures with the utmost dispatch and the least waste
should the occasion arise. Furthermore, this type was particularly adaptable
to speed of erection. This housing project, named Ferguson Park, was usably
complete on July 29, 1941.
To provide emergency accommodation for shipbuilders on the eve of World War
II, the U. S. Navy set up a 5,000 person housing development in 1940 on 68
acres between Warwick Road and James River. The first tenants moved into 100
prefab buildings in the fall of 1941. Ferguson Park, which honored Shipyard
President Homer L. Ferguson (1873-1953), was vacated and razed beginning
Sept. 1, 1965. Nine streets bore names of Newport News-built warships.
- Defense Housing,
Ferguson Park, Newport News, Virginia, US Library of Congress,
Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection,
LC-USE6-D-000949, accessed 20 July 2017.
the Navy's Bases in World War II: History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks
and the Civil Engineer Corps, 1940-1946, Part II, The Continental Bases,
Department of the Navy Bureau of Yards and Docks, p.312. Accessed at
www.history.navy.mil 20 July 2017.
- ibid., p.370.
- ibid., p.378.
- ibid., p.372. This goes on and on, e.g. "...by the end of August, 95
per cent of all housing facilities started with these funds were occupied in
whole or in part by tenants. In the last half of 1941, the Navy received
$5,118,336 from the Federal
Works Agency..." At times the line between between civilian
and military New Deal expenditures were fuzzy (as when the PWA paid to build warships).
Park Historical Marker (1967), HMdb: The Historical Marker Database,
accessed 20 July 2017.
Southside Archives... Postings here suggest there was another community
like this, called Copeland Park, 39th to 48th Street (but what avenue?),
bulldozed in the 1950s. And another for Black workers called Newsome Park,
which still exists (see
oral history for some memories and photos). A similar development, Hilton Village was
built for World War I Newport News shipyard workers; it is recognized as the
United States' first federal war-housing project.