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New Stepping Stones for American Homes

by Loula D. Hasker

Associate Editor, Survey Graphic

December 1937


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3. 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.

4. 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 three years.

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 societies—and 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 war—1,180,000 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.

5. 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 third—as 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 (Jane Addams Houses)
Chicago, Julia C. Lathrop Homes
CHICAGO (Julia C. Lathrop Homes)
Brooklyn, Williamsburg Houses
BROOKLYN (Williamsburg Houses)
Cambridge, New Towne Court
CAMBRIDGE (New Towne Court)
Atlantic City, Stanley S. Holmes Village
ATLANTIC CITY (Stanley S. Holmes Village)
Cleveland, Cedar Central Apts.
CLEVELAND (Cedar Central Apts.)
Atlanta, University Homes
ATLANTA (University Homes)

 

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