When the Baldizzi family was evicted from their apartment in 1935, they joined hordes of displaced tenement tenants who were forced from their homes by new housing regulations.
Evictions and displacement were hardly what Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia envisioned when he spearheaded the housing regulations. Rather, he hoped to aid low-income tenants like the Baldizzis by upgrading dilapidated tenements and building a new generation of public housing.
LaGuardia made cleaning the city's slums one of his first priorities after taking office in 1934. He established the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to deal with these neighborhoods. NYCHA looked to the notoriously distressed Lower East Side to set up its first public housing facilities and institute legislation for safer, more sanitary conditions. Before improvements were made, more than 50% of the residential buildings in the area lacked central heating and toilets in the apartments, and one in six had no hot water
All too often, though, landlords didn't or simply couldn't comply with the regulations. The decline in immigration coupled with increased subway service to the outer boroughs sapped the neighborhood's population. And, with the country still mired in the Great Depression, many landlords didn't have the means to make the costly improvements to their buildings.
Faced with these conditions, thousands of landlords, including the owner of 97 Orchard Street, shuttered their buildings and evicted tenants. 97 Orchard Street was hardly a unique case: in two years, 10,000 decrepit tenements were boarded up, removing 40,000 rental units from the market. Other landlords did upgrade their buildings, only to raise their rents and effectively remove another 30,000 units from the low-rent market.
Though LaGuardia's plan to erect public housing facilities was a success, the new regulations often resulted in displacement and homelessness for New York's most disadvantaged citizens. Fortunately, the Baldizzis eventually escaped this fate and found a home in Brooklyn.