chapter  1
22 Pages

Public Housing Transformation: Evolving National Policy

ByJanet L. Smith

Always a tentative player on the American housing scene, the federal government might be best described as “reluctant” when it comes to public housing. Built on an unstable foundation, public housing was made possible by the Wagner-Steagall Housing Act of 1937, which allowed government to fund, build, and own homes to rent to its poor citizens. At the time, it was pitched as a way not only to improve abhorrent living conditions but also to stimulate the economy by creating jobs in construction and related industries. Despite the potential economic benefits-clearly important in the 1930s-members of the housing industry as well as Congress were concerned that publicly owned housing went beyond the purview of the U.S. government. Whether they feared “creeping socialism” or too much government intervention in the private market, or just believed that housing was a “local problem,” many people insisted that housing development was not a function of government.1