The 1937 Housing Act provided for federal funding of local public housing agencies to develop, construct, and manage housing for low-income people. This legislation had the dual purposes of providing public housing for low-income persons and slum clearance. These somewhat contradictory purposes resulted in a strange political coalition between social workers, who were most interested in housing poor people, and the private developers who were anxious to demolish blighted buildings and re-build housing for working people.
This initial effort at forging a national housing policy was only partly successful because of opposition from private real estate interests and lack of funding for the public housing effort. (Hunt, 2005) Underlying Values and Assumptions The specific aspect of The United States Housing Act of 1937 which is analyzed here is the implementation of Act. Wagner Act provides primarily for “financial assistance to the states and political subdivisions thereof for the elimination of unsafe and insanitary housing conditions and for the development of decent, safe, and sanitary dwellings for families of low income.
” (Fisher, 1959, p. 26) Reduction of unemployment and the stimulation of business activity are important but secondary objectives. The significance of this shift in emphasis extends beyond the mere fact of the government’s belated recognition of its moral responsibility to assume leadership for improving the housing conditions of the underprivileged. While housing was regarded only as a means to an end and not as an end in itself, the building program suffered. Funds were uncertain and were frequently diverted to what seemed more immediate means of achieving the emergency end in view.
Moreover, long-time planning with its many economies and other advantages was quite impossible. The creation of a United States Housing Authority, a body corporate of perpetual duration and singleness of purpose to administer a federal program of assistance to low-rental housing, was therefore an event of some moment. It put housing for the poor on an equal footing, so far as assurance of the federal government’s continued interest is concerned, with housing for those who can afford to own their homes or pay an economic rent.
Eligibility While low-rent housing had thus been freed of its “relief” shackles, it was still tied to slum clearance—how seriously depends upon administrative interpretation. An amendment affixed by Congress to the original form of the bill requires that “the project” must include the demolition, effective closing, or compulsory repair and improvement of unsafe and insanitary dwellings substantially equal in number to the units to be constructed.
It was, of course, highly desirable that communities established and maintained minimum housing standards and that they eliminated as rapidly as possible structures that fell below. It was most undesirable that the effort to accomplish this would in any way obstruct the provision of new dwellings. The possible dangers of a slum clearance restriction were exorbitant land costs and a prohibitive shortage of dwellings during the construction period.
Fortunately, the second of these had been obviated by a clause authorizing the Authority to permit deferment of the elimination of unfit buildings under conditions of shortage “so acute as to force dangerous overcrowding” of families of low income. Unless the requirement that the project included demolition, etc. , could be interpreted liberally to include any such undertaking by a local governmental agency anywhere in a community, it could seem that for the present the “shortage” clause offered the only escape from the necessity of building on slum land purchased at speculative prices. (Fisher, 1959, p. 33-5)