The high cost of building affordable housing in New York, and cities like it, has long been a topic of urgent debate. Yet despite its paramount importance and the endless work of public and private groups to find ways to provide it, affordable housing continues to be an elusive commodity in New York City—and increasingly so in our current economic and political climate. In a timely, captivating memoir, Carol Lamberg weighs in on this vital issue with the lessons she learned and the successes she won while working with the Settlement Housing Fund, where she was executive director from 1983 until 2014. Lamberg provides a unique perspective on the great changes that have swept the housing arena since the curtailment of the welfare state in the 1970s, and spells out what is needed to address today’s housing problems.
In a tradition of “big city” social work memoirs stretching back to Jane Addams, Lamberg reflects on the social purpose, vision, and practical challenges of the projects she’s been involved in, while vividly capturing the life and times of those who engaged in the creation and maintenance of housing and those who have benefited from it. Using a wealth of interviews with managers and residents alike, alongside the author’s firsthand experiences, this book depicts examples of successful community development between 1975 and 1997 in the Bronx and on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In the “West Bronx Story,” Lamberg details the painful but ultimately exhilarating development of eighteen buildings that comprise New Settlement Apartments—a dramatic transformation of a devastated neighborhood into a thriving community. In “A Tale of Two Bridges,” the author depicts a different path to success, along with its particular challenges. The redevelopment of this area on the Lower East Side involved six different Federal housing programs and consisted of six residential sites, a running track, and a large scale supermarket. To this day, forty years later, all the buildings remain strong.
With Neighborhood Success Stories, Lamberg offers a roadmap to making affordable housing a reality with the key ingredients of dogged persistence, group efforts, and creative coalition building. Her powerful memoir provides hope and practical encouragement in times that are more challenging than ever.