Alley Dwelling Authority

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The Alley Dwelling Authority was a government funded program that sought to help with the development of alley dwellings in Washington DC. Alleys in Washington DC suffered from a variety of problems, most prominently overpopulation and poverty. During the 1800s in Foggy Bottom, Washington DC’s population changed drastically. Starting in 1822, there was an estimated forty households with a majority of skilled workers; however, by 1860 there were around 175 households. This drastic change yielded the percentage of skilled workers and unskilled workers to fluctuate. This suggests that there was a boom in the economy and a drastic change in the need for factory hands. This change was beneficial because it created greater numbers to flock into these new areas of Foggy Bottom, then forcing groups like the Alley Dwelling Authorities to step in and reconstruct old dilapidated homes.

Actions of the ADA[edit]

The ADA was given the task of evaluating homes and streets to see if they met proper living conditions. Specific documentation would state the reasons why the area needed to be renovated. This documentation would then be sent from the authority to legislation for approval. Individuals in legislation included (but not exclusively) Eleanor Roosevelt. Common reasons as to why an area needed to be renovated were: excess of individuals in one home, too many African Americans in and around the area, or a fading exterior. After the ADA gained approval from legislation, it would then give the occupants of the houses anywhere from two to four months to find a new home. By July 1, 1944, all of the houses in Foggy Bottom had been evacuated and plans were set forward for renovation. This act sought to produce larger living spaces for individuals with better conditions, so that the owners could charge more for rent. Higher rent prices were acceptable at the time because of a boom in available jobs, which created a more competitive supply and demand market for housing. Monthly rent usually ranged anywhere from seventeen dollars to thirty-seven dollars. These prices fluctuated often because of the available jobs and the condition of the houses. Older houses were typically cheaper than new homes, some of which had running water, gas heaters and cooling systems. Statistics suggest that, on average, the greater wealth arose from the majority of white residents, but also that black wealth was steadily increasing due to new job patterns.[1]

Results of Actions[edit]

In the process of attempting to improve upon DC living standards, the ADA demolished entire alleys. By tearing down the houses of alley dwellers, the ADA was able to refurbish the area into better houses. Funding for the new houses were from the United States Housing Authority. The two loans that were made amounted to a total of $6,000,000 and $4,258,000. However, the construction rendered alley dwellers whose houses were being fixed with no place to live. Of the five completed projects, four of them were being occupied by African Americans. The intended purpose for these projects was to lower crime and death rates. Moreover, there was a conflict when the white population did not want the black population to dwell near them. The ADA had several moral and legal conflicts to manage, as it had to undergo multiple legal loopholes to excise the alley dwellers out of their homes.

Black demographic[edit]

The black population in DC Alleys was at its zenith during the late nineteenth century, although they could not afford sufficient housing. The black population needed more housing in order to live comfortably, but since they did not have more housing, living conditions were often cramped, particularly in small apartments. At the same time, it was necessary for them to live in DC and be close enough to their jobs. John Ihlder, a supporter of public housing and an executive officer for the ADA, dealt with implementing alley development. One government official whom Ihlder contacted was Dr. William T. Grady, chairman in office. The two exchanged letters in order to deal with St. Mary’s court apartment which was specifically built for “negro occupancy,”. The white population believed that the black population should be completely moved out of the DC district, and that St. Mary’s court should be renewed and housed for the white people living in these areas. They began to have regulations on being able to live in these apartments, causing “negroes” to live in the outskirts of town. The regulations included working in the West End, and preferences toward families instead of single people. Ihlder stated that three-four years before June 25, 1939, African Americans occupied most alley dwellings. five to six thousand African Americans paid low rent housing with the alley dwellings. The whites wanted to and had nuked the blacks “negro occupancy”. The government stated that this was inaccurate, that the reasoning for the blacks being moved out from these alleys was for them to improve the conditions of their living environment. Their plan was to put indoor plumbing and polish the housing and make more room, and made blacks move into low income home for 3–4 months. When the blacks came back to purchase their homes they were unable to afford it, due to the new improvements. Not all government officials were trying to push blacks out of these alleys; one of the main advocates for blacks staying in these alleys was Eleanor Roosevelt.

Eleanor Roosevelt's involvement[edit]

Eleanor Roosevelt was a strong advocate for the Washington Housing Authority, as she looked to put an end to discrimination. As the president of the committee Eleanor Roosevelt made it a priority for her to aid the alley dwellers.[2] On June 12, 1934 the District of Columbia Alley Dwelling Act was passed, establishing the Washington Housing Authority as an independent agency. The government attempted to eliminate the alley dwelling lifestyle and tried to improve the situation which was the cause for the New Deal.

ADA and Snow's Court[edit]

The ADA had a significant effect upon the development of alleys, particularly in Foggy Bottom. An alley dwelling within Foggy Bottom, Snow’s Court, witnessed some of the most prevalent changes in terms of alley development. The ADA effectively mended the initially horrid living conditions and the problems that arose with overpopulation in Snows Court. Because of their actions, Snows Court today is affiliated primarily with the middle and the upper class.


  1. ^ Borchert, James. Alley Life in Washington: Family, Community, Religion, and Folklife in the City, 1850-1970. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1980. Print.
  2. ^ "First Lady Biography: Eleanor Roosevelt." The National First Lady Library. The National First Lady Library, n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2013. <>.

Borchert, James. Alley Life in Washington: Family, Community, Religion, and Folklife in the City, 1850-1970. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1980. Print.

"First Lady Biography: Eleanor Roosevelt." The National First Lady Library. The National First Lady Library, n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2013. <>.

Sherwood, Suzanne Berry. Foggy Bottom, 1800-1975: A Study in the Uses of an Urban Neighborhood. Washington: George Washington University, 1978. Print.