Chapter XV
Defense and Emergency Rental Housing

With the beginning of preparations for national defense in 1940, one of the first problems was that of supplying housing facilities for the large number of defense workers and military personnel who had to be moved into congested areas near defense plants and military reservations. The Navy was especially interested in providing housing for dependents of servicemen at or near shore bases at which they were stationed or at the home ports of men attached to Fleet units. Low-cost housing units had to be erected in the vicinity of mine depots, fuel depots, ordnance plants, powder factories, ship yards, and supply bases in order to provide housing for families and thereby induce civilians to take employment at these facilities. Dormitories also had to be constructed for single defense workers, both male and female.

This problem proved to be a continuing one throughout the war period. The overall program had to be modified at certain stages, in accordance with changing statutory authorities and wartime regulations, and in order to provide major relief in certain sections of the country where the housing need became particularly acute. The Navy housing construction was developed under four classifications, some of which were undertaken simultaneously during the same period of time. Housing was constructed under the following programs: (1) The Navy low-cost defense housing program; (2) the Navy-National Housing Agency defense housing program; (3) the Navy-Federal Public Housing Authority defense housing program for the West Coast; and (4) the Navy homoja [Quonset huts] and emergency housing program for Florida and other localities.

The Navy Low-Cost Defense Housing Program

The Navy low-cost defense housing program was financed primarily with funds appropriated for allocation directly to the Navy Department, for construction of "Defense" housing.

Under Public Act 671, approved June 28, 1940, the United States Housing Authority was authorized, with the approval of the President, to cooperate in making necessary housing available for persons engaged in national defense activities. Under this act, the Housing Authority and the Navy and the War Departments were permitted to construct public housing at or near military or naval posts for married enlisted men and for employees of the Navy and the War Departments who were assigned to duty at naval or military posts. The determination of which agency of the government should construct the housing rested with the President. When housing was built by the Army or the Navy, the Housing Authority was authorized to furnish funds and technical assistance for such construction. Such housing was to be leased to, and operated by, the War or the Navy Departments, with the title remaining with the United States Housing Authority.

The Bureau of Yards and Docks was designated by the Secretary of the Navy as responsible for the development and operation of all defense housing facilities under Navy cognizance. It was also directed to represent the Navy Department in all liaison with other government agencies and private interests regarding policies and procedures governing the provision of housing to meet the needs of the naval shore establishment. The Bureau delegated management and operation of Navy-owned housing to the supervision and cognizance of the commandant of the naval district or the commanding officer of the naval station at which the housing was located. The commandant or the commanding officer established an organization whereby immediate management and operation were accomplished.

Surveys of the initial requirements for housing projects were started in April 1940. On June 26, 1940, a Low-Cost Defense Housing Section was created in the Bureau of Yards and Docks. A month later, after a limited staff of engineers and architects


Navy Owned and Operated Low-cost Housing Project, Charleston, S.C.
Navy Owned and Operated Low-Cost Housing Project, Charleston, S.C.

had been assembled, the actual preparation of plans, specifications, and standards was started.

The first housing funds became available to the Navy on August 12, 1940. The first Navy housing project, which consisted of a "trial run" of 50 houses for the naval operating base at Norfolk, Va., was placed under contract on August 21, 1940, and was ready for occupancy in 48 days. Later, funds were made available for a total of 18,895 units which were to be constructed in 43 geographical locations, from Maine to Hawaii, and from Alaska to the Panama Canal Zone.

On September 9, 1940, Public Act No. 781 (76th Congress) gave funds amounting to $100,000,000 to the President, for allocation to the Navy and the War Departments, for the acquisition of land and the construction of housing unit near posts and bases and privately owned industrial plants engaged in defense activities. The average unit cost of such housing projects was not to exceed $3,500 per family unit, including the acquisition of land, installation of necessary utilities, roads, walks, accessories, and collateral costs.

By the close of 1940, the Navy had been granted a total of $56,822,500 for the construction of defense housing. Part of this amount came from funds granted by Congress to the Federal Works Administrator (under the Lanham Act, Public Act No. 849, approved October 14, 1940) to provide housing for persons engaged in national-defense activities, including the Army and the Navy.

By January 1, 1941, construction had started on 95 per cent of all naval housing for which funds were available .During the first half of 1941, funds under this act were transferred to the Navy in those places where construction could be best accomplished directly under Navy contract. Available funds amounted to $4,774,000, and by the end of August, 95 per cent of all housing facilities started with these funds were occupied in whole or in part by tenants. In the last half of 1941, the Navy received $5,118,336 from the Federal Works


Married Enlisted Men's Quarters, Jacksonville
Married Enlisted Men's Quarters, Jacksonville

Agency, under which six additional contracts were awarded and construction of defense homes started.

By the end of 1941, approximately 15,600 of the 18,895 family units under construction had been completed and were available for occupancy, and cantonment accommodations for 2,000 men were either completed or under construction.

Plans and specifications for all housing projects were prepared by the Bureau of Yards and Docks. It was possible to undertake construction work immediately through the utilization of standard plans and the standardization of construction materials. The economies resulting from this policy permitted the erection of 550 additional units. The housing program followed the same general principles which successfully governed other Navy construction; namely, the decentralization of responsibility and the placing of responsibility for the successful culmination of the project on the officer in charge at the actual site of the construction.

Studies were undertaken to ascertain the type of building best suited to meet the needs resulting from the wide variation of climatic conditions. The type of unit finally decided upon had to be, for speed and economy considerations, adaptable to all geographical locations and flexible enough to permit the substitution of various types of materials in the finished structure. This would allow ready procurement of material available in the location in which construction was being undertaken, with the least delay in the completion date of the project, and would also permit the selection of materials best suited for the construction of


units which would resist weathering and meet the climatic conditions of that particular location.

The Bureau of Yards and Docks developed standard floor plans for single family, two-family, and multiple-family units. By minor changes in partition arrangements, the number of bedrooms on the two-family units could be changed The houses were standardized as to floor plans, equipment, and accessories. Contracts required the complete construction of all projects with all roads, walks, and accessories, including cooking ranges, refrigerators, kitchen cabinets, hot-water heaters, and forced-draft hot-air heating units with duct distribution systems.

Navy-National Housing Agency Defense Housing Program

Executive Order No. 9070, dated February 24, 1942, consolidated the housing agencies and functions of the federal government into the National Housing Agency. This made it unnecessary for the Navy Department to participate further as a principal constructing agency in the production of mass housing for personnel employed at naval shore establishments.

As a result of the Presidential order, the Navy's activities as a constructing agency for defense housing were limited exclusively to construction within naval reservations or contiguous thereto. The Federal Public Housing Authority, as part of the National Housing Agency, relieved the Navy of the responsibility of providing homes for civilian industrial workers. Navy projects were located on or adjacent to naval stations where the establishment served was essentially isolated from any nearby community, and construction of the housing in immediate proximity to existing station utilities and facilities was the practical and economical solution of the particular housing problem.

With the country's entry into the war and the resultant critical shortages of manpower and materials, the Navy began to curtail its program of providing housing for the families of service personnel at shore stations. Barracks were erected for enlisted personnel and quarters were built for officers; families were encouraged to remain in less congested localities.

Following consolidation of housing functions into the National Housing Agency in February 1942, all appropriations for defense housing were made to that agency. In some places, however, due to the isolated location of the activity to be served, or because of existing Navy construction contracts, it became advisable for the Navy to handle construction of housing programmed to serve civilian needs at naval establishments. Projects in this category were developed by the Navy with funds transferred from the National Housing Agency.

Homojos and Emergency Housing Program

As the war progressed, there developed an increasingly serious morale problem among men returned from overseas duty who wanted their families with them, pending their return to combat areas. Because family housing for service personnel had been curtailed after December 6, 1941, in order to expedite essential civilian construction and because of the great influx of workers to war centers, it became increasingly difficult for these returned veterans to be reunited with their families. In many instances, where families were together, they were required to live under extremely insanitary conditions and at great expense for even minimum accommodations obtained. It was not always possible for men to travel to their families while ships were undergoing repair, and advanced training usually required their presence for the full period of stay in the United States.

The need was twofold: first, emergency family accommodations for men temporarily in the country for further training or waiting ships under repair and overhaul; and second, a minimum-type housing unit suited for more permanent occupancy by returned service personnel assigned to naval activities for a period of shore duty or rehabilitation.

The Homoja Program. -- On September 27, 1943, the Secretary of the Navy approved the construction of the first 1,000 family units of the Navy's homoja housing program for transient naval personnel and their families. These units provided two 2-bedroom family units in each 20-by-48-foot quonset shell. These small living units included complete kitchen and toilet facilities with bath, and were completely furnished for light housekeeping. Occupancy, limited to transients, was not to


Homoja Village, Annapolis, Maryland
Homoja Village, Annapolis, Maryland
These quarters for married naval personnel were built to accommodate 180 families.

exceed a maximum of 60 calendar days. All units were located on Navy stations, adjacent to existing utilities and other facilities.

The housing units were spotted throughout the continental United States, but principally on the West Coast, where the problem was most severe. From September 1943 until V-J Day, the Navy completed 6,285 family units of the homoja type, at a total cost of $21,050,000, averaging $3,350 per family unit, including utilities, temporary walks and roads, and furniture.

Florida Emergency Housing. -- In the latter part of 1944 and during 1945, the Navy undertook an emergency housing program in the Florida area. A serious housing situation for service families had developed as a result of speculative realty price increases, which accompanied the return of tourists and the re-opening of amusement places after the termination of the war in the European theater.

Veteran naval personnel were confronted with gross evictions and exorbitant rents which made it impossible to have their families with them. The Navy's construction of public housing was undertaken primarily in the vicinity of aviation training facilities.

In all, 1,395 low-cost emergency rental housing units and trailers were constructed at 15 locations at a total cost of $4,600,000, or an average of $3,290 per family unit, including land, improvements, utilities, and furnishings. This program, essentially completed prior to V-J Day, proved of major assistance in meeting the critical housing shortage which followed the close of the war.

Navy-FPHA Defense Housing Program for the West Coast

The most serious need for additional housing for service families following the termination of European operations arose on the West Coast. An exceedingly intense concentration of civilian and uniformed personnel was required in the Pacific coastal region to prosecute the war with Japan.


Benmoreell Park, Norfolk
Benmoreell Park, Norfolk
Apartment units for housing families of enlisted naval personnel.

Unlike the Atlantic coast region, many of the naval centers on the West Coast were not within reasonable commuting distances of numerous well-populated centers. Housing, therefore, had to be supplemented as a high-urgency program when full-scale operations developed in the Pacific.

In September 1944, the Navy initiated a program of construction comprising 10,000 family units in the states of California, Oregon, and Washington, involving 70 projects.

Funds for this program were transferred by the Navy to the Federal Public Housing Authority, which did the construction. The Bureau worked with the FPHA in designing a standard housing unit and establishing site and construction standards which would represent the best reliability consistent with low cost and construction speed.

Sites were selected with a view to utilizing the housing for enlisted men's families on a permanent basis following the war. Where a duration need only was definitely known, a minimum portable dwelling unit was utilized which approximated an improved trailer-type accommodation.

The great bulk of the program was completed and in use prior to V-J Day, at a cost of $37,500,000, an average of $3,750 per family unit, including overhead, land, structures, utilities, improvements, and furniture. The Navy-FPHA housing program for the West Coast also provided a major source of housing relief for service personnel during the immediate post-war period.

Although the Navy's defense and emergency housing projects were of minimum design, they were developed wherever practicable with a view to meeting the needs of enlisted men and their families in the post-war years, pending provision of adequate permanent housing.

Construction at Major Continental Projects

Norfolk. -- To supply the lack of adequate facilities for housing the families of enlisted naval personnel in the vicinity of the Norfolk operating base, 1,042 low-cost units were built. The need for


Navy Defense Housing, Long Beach, Calif.
Navy Defense Housing, Long Beach, Calif.
Part of the 200 duplex houses provided for the families of married enlisted naval personnel.

this housing was so urgent in August 1940 that it had a deleterious effect on the morale of men attached to the Fifth Naval District and to the vessels of the Fleet whose home port was Norfolk.

On October 7, 1940, a letter of intent was mailed to the contractor, and work was begun ten days later. Benmoreell Park was developed on government property in the city of Norfolk, approximately a mile south of the main gate at the naval operating base. The project consisted of 11 two-family apartments, 57 twelve-family apartments, and 24 fourteen-family apartments. Construction also included an office building, playground areas, a recreation building, and an outdoor dancing pavilion. The exteriors of all buildings were painted olive-drab as a means of passive defense.

The type of construction used in the original group of 1,042 units consisted of a "floating" reinforced-concrete foundation and floor slab upon which light prefabricated steel framing was erected. Half of the structures had a stucco finish; the rest had asbestos siding. All the apartments were equipped with a gas range, a gas water-heater, an electric refrigerator, shades, and a three-fixture bathroom. Heating was accomplished by individual oil-fired hot-air heating units, equipped with individual, buried, exterior, fuel-oil tanks.

A complete system of sanitary sewers was installed, draining by gravity to a sewage pumping station which discharged the sewage through a force main to an existing manhole. The water system was laid out as a complete looped distribution system which derived its source of supply from an existing main in nearby Hampton Boulevard. Gas was taken from an existing high-pressure main and distributed, via a main station and individual exterior pressure regulators, to each of the housing units.

The original project was usably complete on May 10, 1941, and a 30-unit addition to the project was ready for occupancy on October 1, 1941.

San Diego, Calif. -- On October 14, 1940, construction was started on 1,200 defense housing units at San Diego, Calif., for the use of families of married enlisted men stationed at the naval operating base. This project was divided into two areas: North Unit, containing 150 four-unit buildings, and South Unit, containing 300 two-unit buildings.

The buildings at North Unit were two-story, reinforced-concrete structures. The design of foundations presented a particular problem, because soil bearing capacity varied in different sections of the site, and alternative designs had to be developed. As a result, approximately 62 per cent of the buildings were on grid foundations, 178 per cent on spread footings, 13 per cent on mat foundations, and 8 per cent on pile foundations Roof framing and interior partitions were of wood, stairways of precast concrete, sash of steel, and roof of tile.

The buildings in South Unit were one-story, prefabricated


Vallejo Low-cost Housing Units, Mare Island Navy Yard
Vallejo Low-Cost Housing Units, Mare Island Navy Yard
View of Roosevelt Terrace, showing some of the 600 units.

steel structures. Concrete floor slabs were laid directly on earth and covered with asphalt tile. The steel-framed superstructures had plastered exteriors and wallboard interior surfaces. Roofs were steel-trussed, with wood sheathing and mineral-surfaced asphalt-shingle covering.

Both projects were completed by September 30, 1941.

Mare Island, Calif. -- At the north end of Mare Island, Calif., on November 6, 1940, construction was begun on 300 dwelling units for married enlisted personnel stationed at the navy yard. Construction consisted of 18 two-unit one-story and 22 twelve-unit two-story wood-frame buildings on pile-and-concrete foundations. The entire housing area was enclosed by levees to protect it from the high water of Napa Creek. It was provided with topsoil, and grass and shrubs were planted. The low elevation of the site required installation of pumps for the disposal of sewage and drainage.

Work on the housing units was done by special crews which followed in sequence in the construction of each unit. This crew work started with the pile driving. The next operation was the forming and pouring of the concrete pile caps. Ready-mixed concrete was delivered directly into the forms, and the concrete was compacted with mechanical vibrators. Power saws were used to cut the lumber to size for superstructure frames, and a truck crane was used to handle heavy timbers. The project was usably complete on August 21, 1941.

Newport News, Va. -- As a result of the expansion of shipbuilding activities at Newport News, Va., housing accommodations for the influx of workers were inadequate and gradually became nonexistent. To establish suitable and sufficient living quarters for workers and their families, a 1,200-unit defense housing project was put under construction on November 1, 1940.

Construction consisted of 100 twelve-family units with all necessary utilities, roads, and accessories. Foundations were of concrete; exterior walls and roofs, of prefabricated metal sections. Exterior walls were covered with asphalt-impregnated fiber


Low-cost Housing at Bellevue, D.C.
Low-Cost Housing at Bellevue, D.C.
Showing 600 housing units provided for married enlisted and civilian personnel of
the Washington Navy Yard, the Naval Research Laboratory,
and the Anacostia Naval Air Station.

board and asbestos shingles. Roof covering was of metal. Each twelve-family unit was a two-story structure with several one-story extensions.

One of the main factors underlying the choice of design was the bolted type of construction which would facilitate the removal of the structures with the utmost dispatch and the least waste should the occasion arise. Furthermore, this type was particularly adaptable to speed of erection.

This housing project, named Ferguson Park, was usably complete on July 29, 1941.

Miami, Florida. -- Due to the increase of Navy personnel at the naval air station, Miami, Florida, housing facilities were needed for the families of enlisted men. Construction started on December 5, 1940, on 200 low-cost housing units at a site about a mile from the air station.

These residences were of concrete block and stucco, with tile roofs. Each building was a separate housing unit, erected on a separate lot, approximately 50 feet by 100 feet It had no cellar, but was built on concrete footings with concrete-block foundations. Interior finishings were of plaster.

The project was usably complete on June 15, 1941.

Newport, R.I. -- At the naval operating base at Newport, R.I., 500 defense housing units were constructed between December 23, 1940, and August 11, 1941, and 23 units were built at the naval training station between January 16, 1941, and October 15, 1941.

In spite of the price limitation on low-cost housing units, it was possible to avoid a monotony of repetition through minor variations in architectural treatment without alteration of the basic design. Building exteriors were patterned after authentic colonial designs. Variety was introduced and interest sustained by variations in roof treatment, entrance detail, and the position of wings at each end. In all, ten different exterior treatments were used. Each design was chosen for harmony with


the structures in close proximity. The unit was of frame construction with two stories, containing four dwelling units.

Pascagoula, Miss. -- Construction of 697 frame family housing units was begun on December 21, 1940, at Pascagoula, Miss., to provide facilities for the families of workmen who were essential for the construction of ships for the United States Maritime Commission.

The housing was constructed at four separate areas identified as "A," "B," "C," and "D." The buildings were semi-permanent, built on concrete piers, with diagonal sheathing, asbestos shingle siding, ridge roofs covered with asphalt shingles, double floors, casein-painted plaster-board interior finish, and screened porches.

Originally, 50 prefabricated steel units were contemplated, but due to lack of delivery only ten were constructed. The prefabricated units, placed in tract "D," were erected on concrete floors, cast on earth fill. Coal stoves were furnished for space heating and cooking facilities.

The procedure established for the accomplishment of this contract utilized a central shop and prefabrication methods wherever practicable. A sawmill, plumbing shop, electrical shop, and central plant for mixing concrete were set up on the site. Materials were delivered directly to these shops and plants. When ground conditions were soggy, tractor-drawn sleds were used for distributing materials.

The development was usably complete on August 31, 1941.

Washington, D.C. -- A total of 745 defense housing units were constructed in four separate locations under the same contract in the vicinity of Washington, D.C. The original contract called for the construction of 600 housing units, including all necessary utilities, drives, and accessories, at Bellevue, D.C., for married enlisted men and civilian employees of the Washington Navy Yard, the Naval Research Laboratory, and the air station at Anacostia. Change orders to the contract authorized the construction of 70 housing units for the Army at Bolling Field, 50 units at the Naval Torpedo Testing Range, Piney Point, Maryland, and 25 units at the Naval Radio Station at Cheltenham, Maryland.

All houses were of wood-frame construction, with concrete footings, concrete post foundations, and siding; others had asbestos shingle siding. Assembly-line methods were used to cut production time and reduce costs. In the carpenter shop the side framing, complete with studs, was assembled from patterns in one panel or in three panels for the double units. The carpenter shop at Bellevue was used for the fabrication of sections for all the housing projects, and the fabricated materials were transported to the sites by truck.

Field work began at Bellevue on November 25, 1940, and the project was usably complete on September 15, 1941. The Cheltenham project was completed on July 7, 1941; Piney Point was in use on December 30, 1941; and the Bolling Field operations were completed in April, 1942.

Alexandria, Va. -- To supply homes for the families of civilian workers at the Naval Torpedo Factory Alexandria, Va., construction was started on January 10, 1941, on a 300-family defense housing project. All houses were frame two-family units, equipped with gas furnaces for hot-air heat. Work on this project also included extensive grading, macadam paving of roads and parking areas, concrete walks, curbs, and gutters, sewer, water, gas and electric distribution systems. The project was completed in approximately five months, which was three months less than the time estimated as necessary.

South Charleston, W. Va. -- In order to provide adequate housing facilities for the civilian employees at the Naval Ordnance Plant at South Charleston, W. Va., the Bureau of Yards and Docks erected 450 housing units in the Highlawn addition of St. Albans, W. Va. The contract for this project was signed on November 18, 1940, and work started on February 7, 1941. The units were usably complete by July 31, 1941.

The St. Albans units were erected as semi-permanent structures for furnishing housing facilities after the war as well as during the emergency. Insulation-board walls were used with asbestos shingles, and concrete floor slabs were used under all flooring. Each of the 225 houses contained two 1-family units, 49 with three rooms and five rooms per unit, and 177 with four rooms in each unit, making a total of 450 family units. Other buildings included an administration building, an incinerator building, a sewage-disposal plant, a sludge-drying building, a maintenance building, and four sentry boxes.

Work on this project was begun before material shortages became acute, but all buildings were erected in accordance with Bureau plans made to conform with material-conservation plans. Materials


Low-cost Housing Development at Hawthorne, Nevada
Low-Cost Housing Development at Hawthorne, Nevada

were ordered as needed on the job site, which kept loss through storage handling and oversupply to a minimum. The work was organized by the contractor to follow assembly-line methods, operations being divided into approximately twelve distinct processes.

Prefabrication methods were used on the wood frames, which were built in the contractor's lumber yard north of the building location and transported directly to the site for erection. Window units were bought complete with screens, to save time and expense at the job site.

Hawthorne, Ne. -- A total of 750 semi-permanent wood-frame defense housing units were constructed to serve the naval ammunition depot at Hawthorne, Nev. Under a lump-sum contract 50 units were constructed between March 10, 1941, and March 15, 1942. On April 16, 1942, work was started under a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract on 400 additional semi-permanent units, and on June 19, 1942, construction was begun on 300 low-cost demountable-type defense housing units. Both of these projects were completed by December 13, 1942.

All units were of wood-frame construction, with asbestos-cement shingles on wall and roofs.

Alameda, Calif. -- Work began April 15, 1941, on 600 housing units for married civilians at the naval air station at Alameda, Calif. The project consisted of 447 one-story frame buildings, 153 of which accommodated two families and the remainder one. Exteriors were stucco-finished except for 100 single-family dwellings which were made of prefabricated wooden covering. All interiors were plastered.

Because of the wet, unstable nature of the soil, the prime footings forming the foundations had approximately three times the usual base area. Soil conditions also required unusual methods and excess materials in the installation of sewers and the construction of streets.

The size of the job and the standardization of plans permitted the purchase of materials in large quantities and the prefabrication of woodwork and


Two-unit House at Charleston, S.C.
Two-unit House at Charleston, S.C.
These buildings were of wood frame on concrete foundations, with asbestos siding and roof shingles.

plumbing. Erection of the buildings was retarded on several occasions by delayed lumber deliveries. Work was completed on December 29, 1941.

Bremerton, Wash. -- With the large increase in civilian workmen in the Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Wash., housing became a problem. The Housing Authority had built, or was building, houses to take care of approximately 15,000 families, but there was an acute shortage of space for both unattached men and women. To meet this situation, the housing authority furnished money to build four 400-man barracks at one end of the navy yard.

Each barrack was a triple-wing structure, two stories high, of temporary wood-frame construction. The buildings had gable roofs, gypsum-board sheathing on the exterior, plywood interior walls, and paper roof covering. The four dormitories were built in an area not being served by the navy yard utilities, so it was necessary to bring utilities from the yard to the project. This included the extension of a 54-inch sewer.

Field work was initiated on September 14, 1942, and the project was usably complete in November 1942.

Charleston, S.C. -- To provide housing facilities for navy yard personnel, 236 low-cost housing units were constructed at Charleston, S.C., between November 1, 1940, and June 15, 1941. This project consisted of four buildings of two units each and 38 buildings of six units each. All the buildings were of wood frame on concrete foundations, with asbestos siding, and had asbestos shingles on the roof. Wall sections and roof trusses for this project were prefabricated. The houses were constructed in groups of two or three. Materials were delivered to the point of use. Concrete was mixed for slab pours at group locations and transported to pour in wheelbarrows.


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