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Unformatted text preview: housing. The result was the Housing Division of the Public Works Administration (PWA). During a tenure that lasted until 1937, the PWA Housing Division built 51 public housing projects containing 21,800 dwelling units (Cole 1975; Keith 1973; McDonnell 1957; Straus and Wegg 1938). Housing reformers were not satisfied with the PWA because they felt that it was a temporary agency committed to creating employment, not low-income housing. With the support of such groups as the American Federation of Labor and the National Conference of Catholic Charities, reformers lobbied successfully for the Wagner-Steagall Housing Act of 1937, which established the United States Housing Authority (USHA) and put public housing on a permanent footing in this country. The USHA had built 100,000 units in over 140 cities by 1942 (when it was folded
1 T he Federal Home Loan Bank Board supported savings and loan associations. Its offspring, the Home Owners Loan Corporation, offered long-term loans to homeowners, and the Federal Housing Administration insured longterm mortgages offered by housing lenders. 426 Alexander von Hoffman into the National Housing Authority) (Biles 1990; Keith 1973; McDonnell 1957). Visionary goals inspired the advocates of New Deal public housing. As heirs to the environmentalism of the 19th century, the housers of the 1930s condemned the slum districts for breeding disease, delinquency, and crime and believed that the elimination of the slums would cure urban social ills. They argued that the government should fight the problems of the slums by providing good homes furnished with abundant light and air, sufficient space for privacy for family members, adequate plumbing, and adequate heating, at a cost that unskilled workers could afford (Bauer 1933, 1934b; Ford 1936; Walker 1938; Wood 1931). Housing experiments in Europe and Britain inspired breathtaking ambitions in the leaders of the movement for public housing. Edith Wood and the brilliant young writer Catherine Bauer, among others, envisioned a massive housing program that would house not just the working poor, but two-thirds of the American population. They believed that private enterprise constructed good homes only for families whose income placed them in the top third of the population. This view relegated those in the lowest income group to the dangerous slums and those in the middle income third to shoddy subdivisions that were frequently potential or incipient blighted slums. The audacious goal to house all but those in the luxury market exceeded both the popular understanding of the need for a housing program and the liberal agenda of political leaders such as PWA director Harold Ickes and President Roosevelt (Bauer 1934a; von Hoffman 1995; Wood 1931). To create an environment antithetical to the urban slum, housers mixed American architectural traditions with European modernist styles that, for better or worse, gave public housing its distinctive image.2 For decades, reformer architects had experimented with single-family houses planned in Garden City–style groupings (after the innovations of Unwin and Parker), perimeter apartment blocks, and garden apartment b...
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