The Public Interest

Moving out of public housing

Howard Husock

Winter 2003

IN 1935, two years before Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation that would bring largescale public housing to the United States for the first time, social reformer Catherine Bauer made the case for government- owned housing. Bristling with contempt for the American private housing market, she wrote in her book Modern Housing that “the justling small builders and the front-foot lots and the miserable straggling suburbs and the ideology of individual Home Ownership must go .... Only governments can set up the new method of house production ... to replace the wasteful and obsolete chaos still prevailing.” By 1950, public housing projects had risen in cities across the country. Their advocates in the National Housing Conference declared these projects a success, asserting that they had “given low-income families their first opportunity to live in a decent, healthy environment.” And the benefits, they claimed, extended to cities as a whole: Public housing, by ameliorating the “social ills bred by slums [had] saved taxpayers vast costs for police, fire, health and crime protection.”

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