The Harlem River Houses is a public housing complex located at 151st street and the Harlem River Drive in the New York City borough of Manhattan, and covers 9 acres (3.6 ha) in Harlem. They were built in 1937 for African Americans. When originally planned, some public housing in New York City was segregated. After the Harlem Riot of 1935, more pressure was added to improving the housing for African Americans, but no attempts were made to desegregate housing.
For the first time, federal money was used for public housing in New York as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s "New Deal" social programs. This money came from the Public Works Administration (PWA). This money was used for two projects in New York City: the Harlem River Houses, intended for black residents, and the Williamsburg Houses in Brooklyn, intended for whites. Because the Harlem River Houses were the first federally funded housing projects, their construction and opening attracted national attention.
The Harlem River Houses are said to be the most successful public housing in New York. The architects designed a modern, spacious building that contained 574 apartments. The Harlem River Houses had child care, health care and public community room right on site, and rent in 1937 was $21.00 a month. The buildings are 4 or 5 stories tall. When the project was completed, 11,000 people applied for the new apartments available.
At their opening in 1937, the Harlem River Houses were the site of a monumental frieze by Harlem sculptor Richmond Barthé, entitled Green Pastures: Walls of Jericho.
Today about 12 of the original tenants still live in the Harlem River Houses. The federal government has raised the price of rent. Tenants are to pay 25-30% of their family's income. Today, the Harlem River Houses are considered to be one of New York's landmarks. The complex was designated a Special Planned Community Preservation District, a zoning category created in 1974 to "to preserve and protect ... superior examples of town planning or large-scale development." It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.