Apartments had just three rooms: a bedroom with no windows, a kitchen, and a front area with windows. Tenements were characterized as "huge prison-like constructions of brick, with limited doors and windows, confined hallways, and steep rickety staircases" in a contemporaneous magazine. They could have up to five stories, with hundreds of people living in each building. There were no elevators inside the buildings.
People worked long hours for low wages, so there was little time or money to fix things. If something broke or needs repairing, you got out your hammer and do it yourself. If it can be fixed, she'll fix it. We made do with what we had. If it can't be fixed, then it doesn't matter anyway.
There are still many tenements in New York City today. You can see them on the Upper East Side, Harlem, Clinton Hill, Coney Island, etc. They're especially abundant in Boston's North End and Chicago's South Side.
Here is how one writer described it in 1849: "Large crowded families inhabiting small dirty rooms. Rotten food, insanitary facilities, and inadequate clothing for everyone."
The hope was that people would move into better housing once they earned enough money. But most tenants couldn't afford to rent out their room, so they kept living in the same place even though it wasn't very safe or comfortable.
One of the rooms used as a kitchen, while the other served as a bedroom. Many families also worked from their flats, frequently sewing or manufacturing cigars. Tenement buildings were often erected side by side on small streets and were composed of brick. As a result, most rooms only had one or two windows, and in other cases none at all. The mood was oppressive. There was little air movement outside of coming in through the door or window. The heat came mostly from coal fires which burned constantly during the day, but even at night there was usually some light from lamps or candles.
People lived here for decades without ever seeing a proper sky. If it rained hard enough, then it flooded the alleys and courtyards that separated the buildings together. This is why many old city maps show large rivers flowing through Manhattan.
The lack of sunlight meant that people needed artificial light to see by. Most houses had no electricity until long after World War II, so they used kerosene lamps or whale oil lamps. These required constant attention because if they went out then you would be left in total darkness.
There are reports of people living in these conditions for years at a time. When the sun finally goes down, it's time to go home... or not. Many workers would spend their evenings at taverns or restaurants instead of going home. This is how they socialized with others same job situation.
Tenements, or narrow, low-rise apartment structures, were overcrowded, poorly lighted, and lacked indoor plumbing and sufficient ventilation. Many of them were centered on the city's Lower East Side district. A typical tenement structure was five to seven storeys tall and took up practically the whole land on which it stood. It had large windows, usually set into multiple panes of glass in as many as six rows of sashes. The doors were generally wide and high-ceilinged rooms, often used for other purposes such as shops or offices.
A neighborhood like New York City's Greenwich Village was originally planned by its colonial owners to be a residential suburb over an industrial center. As factories began to disappear from the area, it became known as "the artists' colony". Today, it is one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the country.
The village was initially built around small farms and estates. As it started to become populated by students and artists who could not afford to live there anymore, local landlords began renting out rooming houses in order to make money. These rooms were very simple - often without beds - but they were cheap enough for young people to live in.
Artists and writers were first given free rent in exchange for painting murals or writing poems for the boardinghouses. Later on, some landlords started charging higher rents so that isn't any longer possible.