Homesteads: President Roosevelt's New Land and Population Policy
by Ralph Borsodi
School of Living, Suffern, New York
A FEATURE of primary importance
in the Dayton plan is the system of land tenure. Title to the
land and the original farm buildings, used for community purposes,
invested in the Homestead Unit as a whole. Separate plots are
then leased to each homesteader on annual terms fixed by the
Unit in accordance with the relative desirability of each plot.
Leases are automatically renewed each year though there are
provisions for terminating them at a time.
If terminated by the Homestead
Unitas they may be for violations of the provisions of
the leasethe buildings and improvements on the plot may
be sold by the homesteader or disposed of if he fails to find
a purchaser upon an appraisal determined by arbitration. On
the other hand the homesteader has title to all improvements
upon his plot, and may sell his property at any time to anyone
eligible to become a member of the Unit. In other words, title
to land rests in the community which creates the land value,
and title to improvements in the individual. Under this system
the holder of a plot is practically compelled to use it or abandon
it to someone else who will. This, I believe, obviates the danger
which has wrecked innumerable idealistic communities as well
as commercial real-estate developmentsthe danger that
the original owner will merely leave the plot unused awaiting
an opportunity to sell it at a profit after an increase in value.
The ground rents collected
from the leaseholders furnish the community the income with
which to pay taxes levied upon the property, interest payments,
payments upon the principal borrowed in order to purchase the
land, and any other community expenses.
THE first Homestead Unit
was organized in the spring of 1932. A farm of 160 acres, purchased
for $8000, was divided into thirty-five three-acre plots, fifty-five
acres being reserved for community pasture and woodlot, commons
and public roads. Thirty-five families immediately took possession.
The homesteaders themselves are a cross-section
of American society, ranging from families of professionals (architect,
teacher, engineer) to tradesmen and white-collar workers (grocer,
bookkeeper, clerk) as well as craftsmen and laborers (carpenters,
bricklayers, plumbers). They include men and women over fifty
with grown children, some of whom join their parents in purchasing
the homestead, as well as young couples without children. Two
young people in fact married on the strength of this opportunity
to build a home of their own.
The background and attitude
of one family while perhaps not typical may be regarded as symbolic
of the entire group. The family consists of the parents in their
early twenties and two young children. The fathera man with
a good work record at the National Cash Register Company where,
however, employment has been unsteadyand the mother, a trained
nurse, have gone at the task of building a homestead with the
spirit and determination of pioneers. Together these two, unaccustomed
to manual labor, did not hesitate to swing picks in an effort
to speed up work on the foundation of their home. I saw them industriously
at this work one Saturday afternoon holiday at a time when the
man happened to have some work at the cash register factory.
Hand-woven cloth comes from
made by members of the unit
Members erected this building
to house all unit work
including a bakery and a shoe shop
The advantages of this plan for homestead
colonization recently summarized by a writer in The Architectural
Forum present the views of a competent and disinterested observer:
The advantage of great
individual freedom which can be enjoyed by the households
on the various homesteads together with the possibility
of as much collective activity as the group freely chooses
to carry on.
The emphasis on family
life where a family as a unit will produce its basic necessities
and therefore where the influence will be in the direction
of binding the family together rather than driving the members
apart as in the case of the present situation.
A sense of permanence and
economic security which will grow out of the homes actually
owned by the homesteaders to which they will be attached because
these homes will be largely the work of their own hands and
the result of their own planning.
The combination of small
electrical machinery with subsistence farming will give families
ample food and clothing with much of the drudgery eliminated.
- The scheme allows for full-time employment
by the breadwinner of the family since the homesteading activities
can in most cases be carried on by other members of the family,
and if this will not work, the employed homesteader may in turn
employ another to work on his property.
How this first Homestead Unit has been financed
is no doubt the question arising in the reader's mind. Enough
funds were raised locally at the outset to acquire possession
of the land, to repair the old farm buildings, to purchase a tractor,
and even before any building operations began, to enable the families
selected to plant gardens, buy milk goats and establish flocks
of chickens. Thus production of their own foodstuffs was started.
Later a loan of $50,000 was secured from the Subsistence Homestead
Division of the Department of the Interior in addition to a grant
of $30,000 from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration for
the revolving fund needed for working capital to all the units
ultimately to be organized.