About Hillman

About Hillman

About Hillman

Hillman Housing Coop is a thriving nine-building complex on the Lower East Side of Manhattan on Grand Street and was founded by leaders who transformed downtown living and created a legacy of improved living conditions and fostered a deep sense of community spirit and engagement. We hope that all who choose to be part of our coop strive to be neighborly and consider themselves as part of our vibrant community.


Hillman Houses located on Grand Street between Kazan Plaza and Lewis Street was the third project sponsored, organized and built by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union and was dedicated as a memorial to its founder and first president, Sidney Hillman. The land surrounding the Amalgamated Dwellings had not been redeveloped and was beginning to take on the appearance of a blighted area as more and more of the old-law tenement buildings were abandoned and boarded up. Plans materialized for a sister cooperative that would continue the rehabilitation of the area. 

Construction was begun in November 1947 and was completed by 1950 at a total cost of $9.1 million. The design is attributed to Springsteen & Goldhammer, with Herman J. Jessor responsible for much of the work. Four slum blocks with 65 tenement buildings were torn down to clear the site for the development. As banks were unwilling to provide loans to the cooperative, financing was provided by the Mutual Life Insurance Company.

The cooperative is named after Sidney Hillman, founder and first president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Each of the three Hillman houses is named after a cooperative or labor leader:

·        Edward A. Filene, father of the credit union movement

·        Meyer London, socialist member of the 64th United States Congress

·        Louis D. BrandeisU.S. Supreme Court Justice

The Mutual Life Insurance Company supplied additional financing for the project after agreements with various banks fell through. Ground was broken on November 14, 1947 and the houses were completed by mid-1950. Three twelve-story buildings were built after clearing  four blocks of “some of the worst slum buildings in the city... and the demolition of sixty-five tenement buildings” (source unknown).  In addition, a shopping center, four-story garage, and a garden and playground linking the Amalgamated Dwellings and Hillman Houses were constructed. The cooperative provided 807 units with an average carrying charge of $16.00 per month per room. 

History of Lower East Side Housing

Throughout its history the heart of New York City's housing problem has been the lack of affordable housing for the working and middle classes. The history of the Cooperative Village on the Lower East Side is the story of a revolutionary idea that came to fruition through the cooperation of individuals, unions, and government.

Among New York City neighborhoods, the Lower East Side was well known for its overcrowded and substandard housing for the immigrant working classes. This situation had been a growing cause of concern among residents, reformers and city government throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, but there were few incentives for private capital to invest in affordable housing for these groups. The situation became acute in the post-World War I period. Little construction had occurred during the war due to shortages of labor, fuel and materials. High interest rates and soaring construction costs during the post-war period led to a general slowdown in new housing developments. Rents skyrocketed, evictions rose, and rent strikes were common.

In 1926, New York State passed the Limited Dividends Housing Companies Act with the goal of promoting the construction of more affordable housing developments. The primary features of this legislation were the right for municipalities to condemn land for large-scale construction, 20-year exemptions from municipal real estate taxes, and rents regulated and limited by the newly created Housing Board. Upon signing the new bill into law, Governor Alfred E. Smith, who had grown up in Lower East Side tenements, stated,

“In approving this bill I do so with the sincere hope that it may prove the beginning of a lasting movement to wipe out of our state those blots upon the civilization, the old dilapidated, dark, unsanitary, unsafe tenement houses that long since became unfit for human habitation and certainly are no place for future citizens of New York to grow in.”  

The law provided incentives to encourage private capital to construct affordable housing, however once built there would be little profit in these types of regulated low-income housing projects. Private investors were slow in taking on such projects. But the incentives did appeal to others. Civic-minded and progressive individuals were actively working to remedy the housing situation. The unions in particular were interested not only in improving the working conditions of its members but also in their general welfare. They were inspired by democratic-socialist ideas and social movements that grew in response to industrialism and the harsh working conditions in factories and sweatshops. The Lower East Side had been a hotbed of progressive politics and unionism. People who pioneered the idea of cooperative housing,such as Abraham E. Kazan, grew up as eyewitnesses to the wretched tenement conditions.

A slowdown in construction during World War II created another period of housing shortage, especially for the returning GIs and their families. In 1949, the federal government passed the National Housing Act. Under the provisions of Title I of this Act, the federal government would assist municipalities with clearing slums, planning, reconstruction, and neighborhood rehabilitation. In New York, Robert Moses led the Committee on Slum Clearance, which was responsible for planning and coordinating Title I projects. The committee and in particular, Robert Moses came under much criticism for the way the various Title I projects were handled. But by the end of the Title I subsidies, thirteen cooperatives had been constructed in New York.

Founding Cooperative Principles

The cooperatives grew out of the principles of self-help and democratic rule. In the early twentieth century, the idea of cooperative apartments was as different in concept from the old tenant-landlord relationship as the buildings were from the tenements that they had replaced. People could provide themselves with housing by combining their financial resources. Each stockholder would invest a proportionate part of the required equity in the cooperative, and each would have an equal share in the development. Each member would have one vote in the affairs of the organization. There was no landlord; collectively the tenants would serve as their own landlord.

The rent, or carrying charges, which covered the expenses of the organization, would be shared proportionally and kept as low as possible. If at the end of the year there was a surplus, it would be returned to the tenant-owners as a refund or a rent rebate. If on the other hand the expenses exceeded income, it would be up to the tenant-members to increase the carrying charges. To discourage speculation, when a member decided to move, they were required to offer their stock for repurchase to the Corporation.  In 1997, Hillman Housing was reconstituted to allow shareholders to sell directly to the public.