FOR OUR NEXT STEP WE COME TO pudding stone made up of the forty-eight
states, and it is slippery footing yet. Eighteen of them have
wholly failed to set up enabling legislation for local housing
authorities which is prerequisite to the receipt of federal
funds. Even the thirty farsighted states have many of them not
seen far enough, for their enabling legislation is inadequate,
marred by legal pitfalls, fails to provide for tax exemption
or is limited to a single city.
WHICH BRINGS US TO A VERITABLE mosaic of unpreparedness
on the part of American municipalities. The need is there. In
1925, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 491,222
new dwellings were put up in 257 typical American cities; ten
years later the figure had dropped to 22,063. To help make up
for these heavy arrears, few cities are legally ready to take
part in the public program. Only fifty have housing authorities;
fewer are in position to make financial contributions in the
form of tax exemptions, free public services or what have you,
that will open their way to federal grants or loans in the next
Here European cities have outstripped ours
as participants in national housing programs in the post-war
years. In Copenhagen every fifth person now lives in a dwelling
put up either by the town or what are called public utility
societiesand therefore out of the speculation market.
In Holland from 1919 through 1922 one family out of thirteen
was housed in a new dwelling. Half received some form of public
backing. The same is true of Sweden, where 130,000 houses have
been built between 1917 and 1929. In England every industrial
center is rimmed with new construction and over three million
dwellings have been built since the war1,180,000 with
some form of government aid.
To match these showings, conservative estimates
put the minimum American need at one million houses annually
for the next ten years. Here, too, we have at length accepted
the challenge that to provide good housing is a public responsibility.
So doing, through government subvention, we have done a goodly
bit in broaching the iow rent problem; but the l problem of
low cost housing has scarcelv been touched. Cut down standards,
cry the critics of our experimental projects. Then you can build
for many times this number. But build what? No one has yet offered
a convincing answer. So far as the government goes, the fund
for research included in the original Wagner Steagall bill fell
by the wayside.
PRIVATE ENTERPRlSE, WHICH MAY BE looked to
for the broadest stepping stone of all to American homes of
the future, has not as yet matched the progress and research
through which autos and radios, for example, have been brought
vvithin the reach of the rnasse. The lower income groups need
better homes but equally, capital needs this potential market
if the peaks and curves of construction are to be ironed out.
Until low cost housing is an actuality this basic industry can
never be stabilized. Until a dwelling cheap enough to meet the
requirements of the nearly two thirds of our population whose
incomes are below $2000, it will not happen here.
But enlightened selfishness should induce
industry nor to leave a stone un turned that might pave the
way to a product in low cost housing that will satisfy and pay.
The prefabricated house has so far overshot this mark. New materials
and building units offer one line of attack. An overhauling
of what is and is not essential to good housing offers another.
Guaranteed employment a thirdas a substitute to alternating
peri ods of high pay and seasonal idleness. There might be an
unanticipated re sponse if the federal housing administration
should bring real estate interests, credit agencies, the construction
industry, labor and housing consurners, to gether in search
of new and concerted lines of attack in bringing costs down
and homes up.
AS IT IS, THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS focused
public attention on the problem and set new styles in household
and neighborhood planning. We are beginning to think in modern
patterns of group if not mass production. Meanwhile there is
every reason to predict that our public program will stirnulate
pri vate enterprise in housing rather than put it out of business.
European experience for two decades goes to show as much. Without
it, our stepping stones to good homes have been few and far
betvveen. Today, at last, they make a path.
CHICAGO (Jane Addams Houses)
CHICAGO (Julia C. Lathrop Homes)
BROOKLYN (Williamsburg Houses)
CAMBRIDGE (New Towne Court)
ATLANTIC CITY (Stanley S. Holmes Village)
CLEVELAND (Cedar Central Apts.)
ATLANTA (University Homes)