Housing Problem in the Tenements of New York

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The tone of Riis work is a blend of various emotions. At times, Riis is accusing especially to authorities, property owners and tenants. Riis accuses the authorities of lack of action in preventing the rise of poor living conditions. He also accuses tenants and property owners of tolerating and continuing the spread of poor living conditions. Riis takes a somber tone when discussing the plight of waifs in New York City. Their plight is pitiable and Riis writes about it in a sad tone. Riis is resigned when writing about how the property owners take advantage of their tenants whose options are limited.

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Riis does not mention the historical grievances of the communities marginalized in the tenements. Immigrants from all over the world faced many hurdles in their search for a better life in the United States. Discrimination was rampant back in those times and it was a major obstacle for immigrants who were looking to make a living in the United States. Europeans, Africans, Asians and South Americans were constantly under the veil of discrimination. Riis however briefly mentions the No Irish need apply sentiment that used to be common in newspaper adverts bat the time.

Riis piece was a great wake up call for all the parties involved in the deplorable housing conditions in the slums of New York. The work has the potential to do good since the points highlighted are significant for the improvement of the conditions in the tenements. Riis point of view is unique since it provides a portrayal of the problem and at the same time makes evident the solutions to the problem. During the time, the living conditions were highly deplorable and there were outbreaks of diseases such as cholera that necessitated a review of the housing conditions.

American values have changed a lot from the time of the writing of the piece. Many changes have been made in the living conditions of people in cities and towns across the United States. However, despite the changes, some places still have poor living conditions; such as the projects. Discrimination is not as bad as it was back then. Laws have changed to safeguard the rights of individuals; whether natives or immigrants. Laws have also been created to govern housing standards and conditions. Bodies have been established to oversee the development of proper housing units.

Riis work provided a peek into the life in the neglected sections of New York City. At the time of writing of his piece, there were many loopholes in law and societal values that propagated the deplorable conditions as evident in the tenements. Riis provides a unique point of view to the problems that affected the tenements by adopting various tones that in addition to the pictures, paint a scene of the deplorable conditions as they were. From Riis work, the sources of the housing problem in the tenements of New York can be identified and suitable solutions arrived at.


Riis, J. A. (1970). How the other half lives: Studies among the tenements of New York. New York, NY: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

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