- San Juan, PUERTO-RICO
- Site Type:
- Civic Facilities, Public Housing
- New Deal Agency:
- Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA)
- Quality of Information:
- Very Good
- Site Survival:
In October 1936 — two years after the First Lady visited Puerto Rico to assess social and economic conditions — it was announced that the New Deal’s Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA) was taking bids for the construction of the Eleanor Roosevelt housing development. We don’t know which firm won the bid, but by 1939 about 472 homes were completed and about 1,500 more were planned. The Eleanor Roosevelt neighborhood still exists today – it is a subbarrio of Hato Rey Norte, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico had been plagued by hurricanes, poverty, sub-standard housing, and a lack of affordable housing for many years, and the New Deal responded with multiple construction projects. The Eleanor Roosevelt project was not for people in extreme poverty (as some PRRA projects were designed for), but rather for modest-income families. The initial phase of development included “131 one-family houses, 91 two-family houses, 4 block model units for 128 families and 31 three-bedroom houses” (Puerto Rico: A Guide to the Island of Boriquen) and monthly rents ranged “from $6.50 to $15.25 for large, airy, modern, separate homes” (Miles Fairbanks, PRRA assistant administrator). This would be about $140 to $330 in 2022 dollars.
Like other New Deal housing projects in Puerto Rico, comfort, safety, and stability were key design elements: “The ‘Urbanizacion Eleanor Roosevelt’ in Hato Rey, a suburb of Rio Piedras close to San Juan [Rio Piedras is now a district of San Juan], is a new type of urban community with comfortable, hurricane-proof houses, wide streets, playgrounds, community centers and school” (PRRA, Rehabilitation in Puerto Rico). A more thorough description of the community is included in the PRRA & WPA guidebook for Puerto Rico:
“The [Eleanor Roosevelt] Development is a modern town in itself, with paved streets, sidewalks and drains, water system, sanitary and storm-water sewerage, a school, a police station, and underground electrical distribution and telephone system… No particular style of architecture has been adhered to. Some houses follow the Spanish colonial traditions, and some are designed along modern lines… Each house consists of a porch, a combination living and dining room, two or three bedrooms with closets, bathroom equipped with modern plumbing and a kitchen with a charcoal stove. The construction work is still under way (1940) and the cost of the entire project of 2,000 houses will amount to $6,200,000 [about $134 million in 2022 dollars] when completed” (p. 269).
In 1941-1942, the Eleanor Roosevelt development was categorized as a Defense Housing project and 161 additional homes were authorized to be built (by June 1943, 159 of these homes were completed). During this same time period, food imports from the U.S. mainland dropped and 175 acres of unused land in the community were “planted to rice, beans, corn and peas” (Forty-Second Annual Report of the Governor of Puerto Rico).
Historical information about the Eleanor Roosevelt community, post-World War II, does not appear to be readily available, so it is difficult to tell how many of the 2,000 planned homes were ultimately built, and how many of those original structures still exist today. In any event, the Eleanor Roosevelt neighborhood is an interesting example of the New Deal’s legacy in Puerto Rico. As one scholar has noted, PRRA projects such as the Eleanor Roosevelt development, “opened worlds of opportunities for Puerto Ricans across the class spectrum that were unforeseen just years before” (Geoff Burrows).
“Village in Puerto Rico to be ‘Eleanor Roosevelt’,” Associated Press, in The Miami Herald, October 7, 1936, p. 1.
Miles Fairbanks (PRRA assistant administrator), “Puerto Rico Slum Clearance,” letter to the editor, The Star Press (Muncie, Indiana), November 6, 1938, p. 27.
Annual Report of the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration, Year Ended June 30, 1939.
Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration, Rehabilitation in Puerto Rico, San Juan, PR: Imprenta Venezuela, 1939.
Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration, Annual Report, Year Ended June 30, 1940.
Federal Works Agency, Work Projects Administration, and Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration, Puerto Rico: A Guide to the Island of Boriquen, New York: The University Society, Inc., 1940.
Forty-Second Annual Report of the Governor of Puerto Rico (fiscal year 1942), San Juan, PR: Bureau of Supplies, Printing, and Transportation, 1943.
Forty-Third Annual Report of the Governor of Puerto Rico (fiscal year 1943), San Juan, PR: Insular Procurement Office, Printing Division, 1944.
Geoff G. Burrows, “The New Deal in Puerto Rico: Public Works, Public Health, and the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration, 1935-1955” (Dissertation), City University of New York, 2014 (accessed May 22, 2023).
“Eleanor Roosevelt (Hato Rey),” Wikipedia (accessed May 22, 2023).
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