Unintended Consequences of Housing Quality Reform in the Progressive Era With Rallye (Qingyang) Shen
In February 2022, the city of Toronto approved a new bylaw allowing backyard garden suites as part of an effort to address the current housing crisis. While the legalization of laneway buildings and rooming houses is today hailed as a positive measure to combat the housing shortage, these types of habitations were once widely condemned as hotbeds of crime and disease. The relationship between housing quality, housing supply, and the quality of life of residents has been a point of contention in North America since the rapid urbanization of the 1830s. Shen situates her paper at a point in history where the first minimum housing standards in the United States were enforced on a rapidly growing Manhattan, a city in which 70% of residents lived in overcrowded tenement houses.
The Tenement House Act of 1901 outlawed windowless rooms, mandated fire-proof construction materials, and required the house to provide at least one bathroom for each apartment. While such measures could be expected to improve health outcomes, they also have the potential to price low-income households out of the most transit-accessible neighborhoods. Shen's paper evaluated the impacts of the 1901 Tenement House Act on the health and well-being of tenement residents. Results show that although tenement regulation increased life expectancy for some resident children, it disproportionately displaced foreign-born and low-income individuals. She contended that the 1901 Act had an overall negative impact on the survival rates and upward mobility of that segment of the population it was meant to protect.