Teaching the Article
Stories from inside Chicago’s Apartments
The introduction of wartime rent control in 1942 was part of a much larger system of rationing and price controls deemed necessary to sustain a productive and patriotic work force. Every city and town with a connection to defense production had rent control. Chicago’s location as an industrial, military, and transportation center brought thousands of new residents into the city, straining the housing supply and creating the conditions for price inflation. In introducing rent control, Congress aimed to prevent transience and discouragement among defense workers seeking affordable housing.
After the war the housing situation only grew worse. In 1946, the head of the Office of Price Administration, Chester Bowles, estimated that over 1.4 million houses would be needed to shelter returning veterans and home front workers; even at a peak rate of construction, he argued, it would take twelve years to house everyone properly and affordably. Thus the war’s massive rearrangement of the human geography had generated a postwar housing problem, motivating Congress to continue rent control into the early 1950s. Rent control dragged wartime policy makers into the postwar arbitration of messy local housing problems, from rent overcharges to cockroaches to broken toilets.
The documents in this section offer a vivid sense of the housing shortage and life inside Chicago’s apartments. Looking first at the “wanted to rent” ads that filled the classified columns of city newspapers after the war ended, what can you deduce about the people hunting for housing? What do the ads reveal about citizens’ postwar predicaments and hopes? What angles are they trying to work to appeal to potential landlords?
Look next at the testimonies taken from the records of Chicago’s Office of Price Administration and the Office of the Housing Expediter—the two federal agencies charged with administering local rent control. Along with those cited in the article, they represent complaints typical in the area and the city as a whole. As you view these documents, notice the particulars of apartment life in this era. What patterns emerge about the quality of postwar housing? Given what you know from exercise 1 about racial changes on the Near North Side, how do you interpret the La Salle Street woman’s concerns about safety? What do you surmise about the new Japanese American presence in the area? How would you compare the living conditions in apartment housing with what you see in popular television shows about the postwar years, such as I Love Lucy or The Honeymooners? Think, too, about shows such as Leave it to Beaver or Happy Days, whose characters lived in more suburban settings. Finally, if you have studied earlier periods in American history, can you draw connections between the urban housing conditions described here and those at the turn of the century?
A. "Wanted to Rent" ads, Chicago Daily Tribune, April 14, 1946
B. Notice to Tenant and Tenant's Statement, Agnes Weidenherner, December 31, 1949
C. Statement of Complaint, Mrs. Anna De Leone, October 19, 1946
D. Statement of Complaint, Harriet Bonning, n.d., but received January 10, 1947
E. Notice to Tenant and Tenant's Statement, Hortense Frenier, n.d., but received March 17, 1949
F. Affidavit, Christine Shishida to Office of the Housing Expediter, April 23, 1948