Fred Lavanburg, founder of the Lavanburg Foundation, believed that a good housing environment was key to solving problems such as racial discrimination, juvenile delinquency, and issues related to poverty.
Lavanburg Foundation History
A Special Act of New York State Legislature established the Lavanburg Foundation as a low-income, non-profit housing corporation in 1927. Its initiator, Fred L. Lavanburg, was a bachelor, born and educated in New York, who had accrued a modest fortune through manufacturing. In his early sixties, he became deeply concerned with the plight of underprivileged children and with the problems of racial discrimination and juvenile delinquency.
Fred Lavanburg believed that a good housing environment was an important key to solving these social issues; but then, as now, the difficulty lay in producing good housing at rentals that low-income tenants could afford. He thought this could be achieved through the intelligent design and management of housing, and consequently he turned to his attorney, Carl Stern, for assistance in forming the Lavanburg Foundation. Convinced that a non-profit housing corporation was the best method to effect such a change, Lavanburg wrote his will to enable this institution to implement his ideas.
Lavanburg's first act was to provide the initial capital of $700,000 for the erection of the Lavanburg Homes that still stand at 124-142 Baruch Place. Thereafter he took a personal interest in the building of these apartments, stopping off each day on his way to work to witness the progress of their construction. Unfortunately, Lavanburg died on November 5, 1927, less than two months before the dedication of these buildings by Mayor James Walker in December of that year.
Under the terms of Lavanburg's will, the Foundation received the bulk of his estate as an additional endowment, and when various trusts fell in, the capital of the Foundation was increased to approximately $1.5 million.
Even before the Foundation was legally constituted and the buildings completed, Lavanburg had decided on the policies that he hoped would govern the Foundation. He personally established the standards governing tenant eligibility:
In short, the need of the tenants, rather than the convenience of the landlord, was to govern their selection.
Finally, to achieve low rents it was stipulated that there should be no profit or return on any investment. More than that, it was recognized that the operation of the homes should benefit from a limited subsidy; one that aside from slightly easing the costs to be borne by the rent, would also underwrite various social activities and services. Part of Lavanburg's pioneering contribution was this realization that the successful provision of low rental housing would, of necessity, require a subsidy.
Before his death, Fred Lavanburg and the Trustees of the new Foundation under the presidency of Roger W. Straus, recruited Abraham Goldfeld, a man of wide overall experience, to manage the project. Goldfeld was not only the housing manager but also the "tenant manager." He gave meaning to the title through his astute and sensitive recognition of the delicate social aspects of housing and by developing new ideas for community facilities as a means of achieving tenant welfare and cooperation. Soon students of housing and sociology came from all over the United States and Europe to study the project and his method of transforming physical housing into a living community.
The opening of the Lavanburg Homes in 1927 coincided with the election of Robert F. Wagner as the Junior Senator from the State of New York. Wagner later became the sponsor of the Federal Government's first public housing legislation. Thereafter Wagner continued to play a major role in the furthering of modern housing and community policies. Under his leadership at various levels of government, many of the policies that had initially been carried out in the Lavanburg Homes came to be applied on a grand scale throughout the nation.
With the development in the thirties of the great public housing programs, our small demonstration project on Baruch Place diminished in value as a laboratory or pace-maker, and in this lays one of the greatest tributes to Fred Lavanburg's successful pioneering. In 1955 the Trustees reached the conclusion that the Lavanburg Homes had out lived their usefulness as a "project" and that something should be done about them. It was felt that they could serve a useful purpose as a temporary home for transient poor and homeless families who were awaiting admittance to city or state projects.
Accordingly, Carl Stern and Judge Edward Weinfeld, both Trustees of the Foundation, approached the City at the request of Roger W. Straus, President of the Foundation and, in 1956 the buildings were donated to the City. They are now the home of The Urban Family Center for the accommodation and rehabilitation of temporarily homeless families.
Carl Stern made a great contribution to the Foundation throughout his active life. He knew everyone in the housing field, and because of such contacts, was able to bring suggestions to the Foundation for many worthwhile programs. This helped the Foundation initiate research and studies into innovative fields for the improvement of housing and community planning.
The Foundation, starting with limited capital of approximately $l.5 million, has been able to act throughout the years as a "seed money-innovate" foundation and has spent almost $4 million to date in carrying out such projects.
Selected Grants (1927-2006)