These classified apartment listings from the Washington Times in October 1932 offer a fascinating glimpse into rental prices and living conditions in the nation’s capital during the Great Depression. With average rents in DC now over $2,400 per month, it’s striking to see apartments advertised for as low as $25 or $35 per month. Adjusted for inflation, that would equate to just $450-$630 in today’s dollars – an absolute steal in most DC neighborhoods.
The affordable prices likely reflect the economic realities of the Depression, when unemployment neared 25% at its peak. With jobs scarce and incomes falling, landlords had little choice but to offer rock-bottom rents to attract any tenants at all. The ads tout convenient locations near transportation lines and amenities like electric refrigerators, hoping to lure budget-conscious renters.
October 1932 was the height of the presidential campaign between incumbent Herbert Hoover and Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was held in the long shadow of the Great Depression, triggered by the stock market crash of 1929. Hoover was roundly criticized for his failure to turn around the free-falling economy and provide relief to struggling Americans. During his term, national unemployment rose from 3% to over 20%.
Roosevelt would go on to win the election in a landslide, promising a “New Deal” to reform government and stimulate the economy. The classifieds capture a moment right before this pivotal election and major shift in US policy. It’s easy to imagine Washington residents anxiously following the campaign, hoping for leadership that could improve their daily lives. With rents eating up a large share of incomes, affordable housing was surely a prime concern.
Beyond the low rents, the ads themselves offer a snapshot of 1930s life. Many tout new electric refrigerators and proximity to streetcar lines, marking modern conveniences of the time. The mix of apartment hotels, small walk-ups, and garden apartments point to diverse housing options. Listings for “colored” tenants unfortunately reflect prevailing racial discrimination.
Here are three interesting and unique apartment ads from the classifieds:
KNICKERBOCKER – 1840 Mintwood Pl. N.W. $75. 2 large rooms, kitchen and bath; with porch; all outside rooms; free refrigeration; convenient; exclusive.
This ad stands out for listing one of the highest rents at $75 per month. It emphasizes luxury features like a porch, all outside rooms, and free refrigeration. The exclusive Knickerbocker Apartments were apparently a high-end option.
SEDGWICK GARDENS – Connecticut Ave. at Sedgwick St. $75. 3 rooms, kitchen, bath and porch. Connecticut Avenue’s newest apartment building.
This ad highlights Sedgwick Gardens as a brand new luxury apartment building on the prestigious Connecticut Avenue corridor. It had a prime location and amenities like a porch that set it apart.
UNHEATED APARTMENTS – 1430 A St. S.E. $35. 2 rooms, kitchen and bath, yard, electricity, installed radio aerial and outlets. Bryant gas heaters, economical estimated cost. No coal or ashes to handle.
This ad is unique in offering unheated apartments with gas heaters rather than central steam heat. It was likely an inexpensive option at just $35 per month. Mention of the radio aerial also indicates this building had modern technology.
Overall, these classifieds provide invaluable insight into how Washingtonians lived and the economic pressures they faced during the Great Depression. The affordable rents likely provided welcome relief as Americans struggled to make ends meet and hoped for better days ahead.