Housing in Historic Greenhills
From an architectural source:
Each [residential] section has a mix of dwellings, one or more collector streets, a series of cul-de-sacs or short lanes, pedestrian paths, parks, playgrounds, and public green spaces such as commons or planted median strips….
Housing ranges from traditional single-family homes to many variations of row house groupings and multi-family apartment buildings. The design team created more than 30 different floor plans. Grouped housing units are staggered or stepped for variety, some in an orderly chevron arrangement. The placement of single-family homes and duplexes on curving streets and cul-de-sacs was particularly innovative, foreshadowing the design of postwar Federal Housing Administration subdivisions.
While there were originally 1,660 housing units in Greenhills, the downsized village currently contains 695 residential units, some in multi-family buildings, and ranging from one to four bedrooms. Since the federal government sold them in 1950 they’ve been privately owned, some by absentee owners who rent them out.
Thus, residences haven’t been as well preserved or maintained as those in Greenbelt, thanks to our residences becoming a co-operative. It may be the rental units that contribute to my impression of poor upkeep of many homes in Greenhills, or simply private ownership, but honestly, seeing Greenhills made me appreciate Greenbelt more than ever. While I’ve urged Greenbelt Homes, Inc. to do more to conserve Greenbelt’s historic architecture, as a co-op it’s at least to keep the community owner-occupied (except for rare, temporary exceptions), and require some upkeep of our units.
Greenhills Mayor David Moore tells me that he expects the state of its housing to improve since Greenhills was designated a National Historic Landmark.in 2016. The historic district was already listed on the National Register of Historic Places. National Historic Landmark status will enable the city to create standards for upkeep and for modifications.
Who lives here?
At its inception, Greenhills was exclusively white. (New Deal progressivism stopped at the color line. Today, per the 2016 American Community Survey, its population of just under 4,000 is 83 percent white, 14 percent black, and 4 percent Hispanic or Latino, with a median household income of about $57,000. Of the town’s 1,700 units of housing, the majority are owner-occupied, and homes recently on the market ranged from the high $40,000s to $155,000. Per 2018 source.
Here are some examples of homes that I photographed while Mayor Moore was giving me the royal tour and providing some details about the residences.
This look very similar to Greenbelt’s flat-roofed block units, except for the gable added over one of the doorways. I’m told it was added to fix a leakage problem. Original roofs were tar pitch, which worked well, but they were replaced in the 1950s and 60s with asphalt, which doesn’t work well on flat roofs – because water slowly deteriorates the asphalt. Adding a pitch to the roof solves that problem.
Above are more units that had gable roofs added to their flat roofs – some by the federal government and others by private owners. You can tell these are 3-bedroom units because of the three windows on each level.
Above, a photo from the Library of Congress of that same row in its original state.
I noticed that Greenhills has both interior sidewalks AND sidewalks along the streets. Unfortunately, Greenbelt’s lack of street sidewalks forces many residents to walk in the street – a pet peeve of mine.
There are only a handful of single-family homes in Greenhills; they are slow to turn over, and their 1930s-era floor plans are much smaller than those of newer detached homes. “Generally speaking, the things that have driven people away are basically just larger houses,” said Todd Kinskey, director of planning and development for Hamilton County.
This unit is a mix of original and changed. A gable has been added to the original flat roof on the left, a unit that also has added brick supports for the porch, versus the simple poles that are still seen on the right. Shutters have been added to both units.
I was particularly interested in some new units that will be built within the historic community, replacing the poorest-quality original units that had deteriorated badly and been torn down. Their asbestos siding, though fireproof, caused problems. (I was told that if it looks like wood, it was actually asbestos – the first use of it in the U.S. Instead, hardiboard is used today.)
The new units were designed by an architect in Cincinnati with experience in International Style who heads up a preservation organization, with tons of input locally – public hearings and so on – and even from the National Park Service.
As reasonable as that may sound, the project isn’t uniformly popular. I found some background and coverage of the controversy at Bloomberg News:
Greenhills is a living landmark to the New Deal, but some of its older homes feel a little too lived-in. Four properties—apartment buildings of four to eight units, each ranging from one to three bedrooms—have long been troublesome to the community, according to village manager Evonne Kovach. The properties were once privately managed, but poorly so: They deteriorated through neglect and became known as eyesores.
After trying to sell the properties and then finding out that rehabbing them would have cost twice the village’s annual revenue, the decision was made to demolish them..
Less than a year earlier, the historic core of the village had been designated a National Historic Landmark….Prior to the demolition, village leaders received a stern letter from the Department of the Interior regarding the plan to raze the buildings.
Work on these new units has been delayed by changes in the economy (especially interest rates). There are contracts on two units so far, and Mayor Moore says he hopes they’ve locked in their financinga ndo, that work on the project can be started “any day.”
Original Greenhills Homes (via the Library of Congress)
Browse more historic photos of Greenhills yourself.