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Thread: US Housing Policy help?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian GeogPlanner's avatar
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    US Housing Policy help?

    I'm looking for some good resources on the evolution of US Housing Policy for research...

    Two sources i have on my desk right now are:

    Gwendolyn Wright "Building the Dream"
    John Baums et al "From Tenaments to the Taylor Homes"

    Any other suggestions?
    Information necessitating a change of design will be conveyed to the designer after and only after the design is complete. (Often called the 'Now They Tell Us' Law) - Fyfe's First Law of Revision

    We don't believe in planners and deciders making the decisions on behalf of Americans. -- George W. Bush , Scranton, PA -- 09/06/2000

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    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    You know, I kind of want to reply, because I have done a fair amount of reading on the subject. But, off the top of my head, I can't think of a specific source. Do you want to hear my version of American Housing Policy since WWII? It might give you some ideas about what to look for. Or not. Whatever.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian GeogPlanner's avatar
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    funny you should say that. i am actaully looking into policy since the New Deal. would be very interested in that...
    Information necessitating a change of design will be conveyed to the designer after and only after the design is complete. (Often called the 'Now They Tell Us' Law) - Fyfe's First Law of Revision

    We don't believe in planners and deciders making the decisions on behalf of Americans. -- George W. Bush , Scranton, PA -- 09/06/2000

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Okay, one source you probably should look for is "From Cotton Belt to Sun Belt" (and I can't remember the subtitle or author -- if I find my copy, I will post that info later).

    You need to go back to at least The Great Depression and actually need to have a general overview of some things going back to The Civil War in order to get the picture and that book, while mostly about the economic development of the South, will give you a good understanding of the forces at work nationally going back that far. Additionally, it has a long list of sources in the back of the book that you might find useful. Or not, since it isn't specifically about housing policy. It is also just a good read. I enjoyed it.

    Very briefly: Prior to the Civil War, the South had this wonderful situation in which only rich people got taxed and everyone was happy about it because they taxed slave-owners on the number of slaves they had (or something to that effect). Ending slavery gutted the economy of the South and left all the municipal governments with no means of support. Atlanta had been burned to the ground by Sherman because it was a major manufacturing center and it was an important source of material support for the war effort on behalf of the South. I believe it was the most industrialized city in the South and burning it to the ground crippled the economy -- which it was intended to do because it was supplying boots, uniforms, munitions, etc to the Southern army.

    So, Post-Civil War, the South was very poor, was crippled economically and there was NO tax base. Given the situation, any proposal of new taxes was very much opposed. And blacks got paid about 50% of what whites got paid. The economy of the South lagged behind the rest of the nation in a big way and this persisted into the Great Depression. As part of The New Deal, the first minimum wage law was passed -- and its real purpose was to bring the economy of the South more in line with the rest of the nation by requiring that black workers get paid what white workers got paid. The degree of racism was underestimated and this was a failing policy (until WWII saved its bacon). Whites in the South simply were unwilling to pay a black man "a white man's wages" and this is part of what fueled the exodus of blacks out of the agricultural South and into industrial cities of the North.

    Prior to the Depression, a balloon mortgage was a very common means to finance housing and housing didn't cost nearly what it does today (in relative terms). During the Depression, people were so gun-shy of being burned by an inability to pay their debts that you couldn't get them to borrow money even at interest rates in the range of 2%. Landlords typically gave incentives that if you could pay your rent for 12 months straight, they gave you the 13th month free. A lot of families moved every 13 months to take advantage of this as often as they could.

    We end up in WWII. The nation is shocked to discover that we are able to increase production of BOTH 'guns and butter' due to the untapped human resource represented by a 30% unemployment rate. All able-bodied young men pretty much go off to war and able-bodied young women go off to factories. After a while, they are encouraging "Victory Gardens" so that all the food produced by farmers can feed our soldiers in Europe. They begin rationing "luxury" items, such as tobacco and coffee. At some point, they stop building cars and the car factories get used to produce jeeps (and maybe tanks? I can't remember for sure). So, families have 2 incomes, can't make any more babies what with daddy in Europe, and are growing their own food and there is NO way to spend all this enormous and unprecedented income on luxury items which are being rationed. During one year of the war, savings rates were near 50%. Given that we are talking 2 income families, the 50% savings rate essentially represents one person's entire income for the year.

    The boys come home from war. They actively encourage the ladies to Go Home and let our deserving vets have the factory jobs. The "average" family has the equivalent of several year's income in savings, the ladies desperately want babies, and these people were dirt poor and struggling to survive a mere 5 years earlier, during The Depression. People who had been moving every 13 months to get one month's rent free now had Veteran's benefits that would help them both go to college AND buy a house. This is the birth of Levittowns because they couldn't build the houses fast enough. Theorists thought the money would stay in the bank and Americans would continue to share tools with neighbors, ride bikes to work like they had during the Depression, etc. Not so. Americans went on an orgy of spending, buying houses, cars, every tool imaginable with which to fill their garages -- and The Baby Boom happens to coincide with this period (imagine that).

    All of our present US Housing Policy can be traced to that situation: the Depression got ended by WWII and we felt (justifiably) that our boys who came back from war DESERVED a reward -- and we had it to give. The tax breaks on housing, the financial institutions geared towards financing middle-class single family housing (and pretty much NOTHING else), and on and on was born of those events -- and is no longer serving the American public very well. The nuclear family, military benefits, etc. that were the "norm" right after WWII are no longer cornerstones of American life. All the single parents, unmarried bachelors and bachelorettes, senior citizens whose kids moved out long ago, etc. etc. cannot afford "The American Dream" of a "family home in the suburbs" that all American housing policy presumes is The Goal -- nor would that serve their needs very well if they could afford it.

    I hope that gets you started. I would be interested in hearing what you find. This is an area of deep interest for me. I know what is wrong and why what we have now does NOT work. I would like to begin trying to figure out what would work, given present reality.

    EDIT: it is also helpful to be familiar with the global economic forces that led to WWII and the experiences behind the phrase "Never Again" that was a cornerstone of the mentality shaping global economic policy in the interest of never again having such a dire economic situation that it would foster a global conflict. The Great Depression was not limited to the US and the desperation of Germany, which bore a heavy burden of having to pay "reparations" following the first world war, was why Hitler managed to do what he did. This is also why America went into Japan and Germany and helped rebuild their economies -- to fulfill the promise of "Never Again". We still have troops in those 2 countries due to the events of WWII. etc etc -- I could go on for many more pages. Sorry.
    Last edited by Michele Zone; 18 Dec 2003 at 7:14 PM.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Um, that long post sort of outlines the outdated concept of "housing" and what is "good" housing that so much of US policy is based upon. But there is a lot more ground to cover in terms of how things have changed since WWII. I also researched stats for 1950's era housing versus "modern" housing (this was more than 5 years back, but I think the basic idea is still valid).

    The vast majority of increased expense in housing is due to increased size, quality, complexity, etc. Old houses don't have the electrical set up to support all of our computers, TV's, microwaves, etc. What was middle class housing in the 1950's and 1960's would be deemed slum housing now: no air conditioning, no microwave, no vcr, satelite TV, etc. Two bedrooms, one bath 1200 sq. ft. or less. Only about 50% of housing had "complete indoor plumbing", defined as "hot and cold running water, indoor toilet, tub or shower and at least one sink". I have been in an older home where the only sink was kitchen sink and the bathroom was just inside the kitchen, containing the toilet and tub but no shower. Many homes had outhouses or only cold water but no hot water, for example. Whereas, now, 99% of homes have "complete indoor plumbing".

    Insulation, plumbing, electrical load to support all of our modern appliances and such have all developed considerably. All of that has been added on top of what we deemed to be "basic, serviceable housing". At this point in time, we really need to redefine our concept of "good housing". The mortgage industry was based on a lifestyle of buying a house and staying there until you died. Many people move and sell their homes every 5 to 7 years these days. Our housing needs have changed radically. Our housing concepts have not really changed radically, they have grown in a linear fashion. They need to metamorphose.

    I may add more thoughts later. But I think you do have to understand the history leading up to the return of our Boys from WWII in order to understand this very persistent concept that shapes US housing policy. That was the Defining Moment in modern US housing policy. The fact that "everybody" could afford to live on one income and that these people grew up in the Depression and fought in the war and then came back to a booming economy and the ability to go to college and buy a house profoundly shapes the psychology behind present housing policy in the US -- which is why our policies are so "blind" to the fact that, no, not very many people can afford to buy a house and live on one income like that anymore. Additionally, these people saw the 1200 sq ft, 2 bedroom, one bath homes as glorious mansions compared to being homeless, moving every 13 months, half of all homes not having "complete indoor plumbing", etc. So we keep trying to recreate that "experience" but we are not coming out of The Great Depression and a global conflict upon which to base modern expectations. It takes ever more to feel that rush of material security and wonderment that those simple homes provided to the returning veterans who did not go to war expecting to be rewarded for it.

    You have to understand how these people thought and felt and viewed and experienced their lives and how that was imprinted on the psyche of this nation -- and that we are only now really trying to wake up from being entranced by it. It was a glorious moment and one to be cherished in the history of a nation -- but it is gone and the economic realities and psychological realities it created cannot be recreated for those who are following in the footsteps of the people who wrote our present policies.

    Our present policies grab one thread -- single family homes for the nuclear family -- and fuel its growth at the expense of all else (thus resulting in both Sprawl and homelessness). That Worked beautifully when the Boys came home and the women went home to have babies. In fact, that hyper-focus on single families homes was absolutely essential in order to meet the sudden and overwhelming demand for it. But we no longer have a homogenous culture of mostly nuclear families with veterans benefits and money in the bank and very humble beginnings creating very modest expectations and a deep sense of gratitude for basic comforts that modern Americans now take for granted.

    I am thinking that you probably read my other post and think I am a loon and have come from left field and all that "ancient history" has nothing to do with what you want to research. But if you want to understand post WWII US housing policy, that is what you must understand: the subjective and objective realities of our returning WWII Veterans and the nation that welcomed them back with open arms. If you want to then understand why the policies predicated upon that Defining Moment no longer work, then you have to study how lifestyles, techonologies, expectations, and so many other things have changed.

    I have studied both of those things in some depth and I have recently begun trying to delve into the question of "Well, what MIGHT work in place of all these things that no longer work?" Which is part of why I fought to put the class "Homelessness and Public Policy" into my concentration -- which, btw, happens to have "housing" as its organizing theme (an organizing theme or central concept is a requirement for a custom concentration in my degree program).
    Last edited by Michele Zone; 18 Dec 2003 at 11:46 PM.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian GeogPlanner's avatar
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    wow...i really appreciate your thoughts. i'm going to go through them tomorrow morning in greater depth. i agree that you need to have some form of context to such a policy. i had pinpointed the new deal as a starting point because i see public housing as a progressive policy and where better to start talking about truly progressive policy than FDR? imho
    Information necessitating a change of design will be conveyed to the designer after and only after the design is complete. (Often called the 'Now They Tell Us' Law) - Fyfe's First Law of Revision

    We don't believe in planners and deciders making the decisions on behalf of Americans. -- George W. Bush , Scranton, PA -- 09/06/2000

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    I was briefly a history major when I was 19. But I never got much out of history as it was taught in high school and college. They tend to have you memorizing names of politicians and dates of battles and such and that never meant anything to me. So I am not that familiar with the policies of The New Deal. (EDIT: but it is my understanding that was a major turning point and unprecedented things were done. I can well see choosing to start there. But my understanding of post WWII housing policy is rooted in the psychology of that pivotal experience, with the soldiers coming home and everyone having money and the baby boom. What was "normal" for that era seems to be the presumption behind most of our policies, although it is no longer normal at all.)

    My real education in history began after I left college. I stumbled into an interest in the history of fashion which led me to fascinating details of the history of women -- something very relevant to my life when I was a homemaker with small kids. The history of war and generals and politics is mostly a male history. I became fascinated by social and financial history, which was something I was hardly exposed to in school. The more I learned about those things, the more interesting and relevant boring stuff like wars and politics became. But I really can't remember the dates when wars began and ended. It isn't interesting and it seems kind of unimportant.

    My husband happens to be a history major at the moment but he already knows more about military history and the history of Rome and a few other obscure interests of his than most college professors who teach this stuff. He considers me to be ignorant of history and he has been an enormous source of insight into things too dreadfully boring for me to personally delve into.

    For me, there is one historic detail that ties fashion, money, women's rights, and war together and which pulled me into studying all of this: in World War One, women were asked to donate their metal corsettes and metal hoop skirts and their many layers of long skirts to the war effort so the metal could be used to make ships and weapons and the material could be used to make uniforms and whatever else. It was the need for material for the war effort that freed women overnight from corsettes and long skirts. Women used to faint from wearing this crap in the summer in the Deep South and the imperative to have a tiny, corsetted waistline drove some women to have their lowest set of ribs removed. The miniskirt and loose waistline of the 1920's flapper was a direct result of WW1 -- and revolutionary and freeing for women.

    After I stumbled across that fact, I made a point of paying attention to any small details of social and financial history in books, documentaries, etc of wars of the 20th century. These things are usually a small part of such things and I was shocked that such profound social changes came out of WWII and no one thought these things were worth mentioning to us in school when they were having us memorize dates of battles and stuff like that, which meant absolutely nothing to me. I have since gotten a book called "The Social Meaning of Money" and another called "More Work for Mother" (the history of housework). These books were enormously useful to me.
    Last edited by Michele Zone; 19 Dec 2003 at 5:54 AM.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Okay, I have scoured my bookshelves and have a list of books that I read that you might find useful:

    From Cotton Belt to Sun Belt: Federal Policy, Economic Development, and the Transformation of the South, 1938-1980
    By Bruce J. Schulman

    This book is 333 pages long. A chapter called "Essay on Selected Sources" starts on page 222. This is followed by copious notes and a rich index. I think this book would be of enormous value to you.

    Hollow City: The Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism
    by Rebecca Solnit and Susan Schwartenberg

    This is short and talks a lot about housing but also touches on the relationship between art and politics. I found it a very worthwhile read for understanding housing issues in a social and political context. It was published in 2000 so it is extremely contemporary and was done almost like a "news" piece.

    Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980
    By Charles Murray

    This has an appendix full of data. I recommend it for your research as well.

    Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed
    by James. C. Scott

    This book helped me understand things about the friction between the needs of individuals and the needs of government, the deep impact of how one conceptualizes "the problem", and many more things. I can't imagine comprehending how government policy affects individuals without reading this book.

    Some others that are not as en pointe but that I find to be relevant:
    A Future from The Past: The Case for Conservation and Reuse of Old Buildings in Industrial communities (A joint publication of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Massachussetts Department of Community Affairs)

    The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

    The City Reader, second edition edited by Richard T LeGates and Frederic Stout

    Marriage Shock: The Transformation of Women into Wives by Dalma Heyn

    Women and Children Last: The plight of poor women in affluent America by Ruth Sidel

    The Geography of Nowhere

    The Economics of Being a Woman by Dee Dee Ahern with Betsy Bliss

    What Women Earn by Thelma Kandel

    Timelock

    The Worldly Philosphers

    The Common Sense Mortgage (1994 edition -- later editions may have a different name) by Peter G Miller

    This last book makes me think of all the "how to get rich quick in real estate" books from the 80's. Many of them based their techniques on taking over VA mortgages. Those techniques quit working in part because policy changes made it harder to assume such mortgages and in part because there were fewer people with such mortgages. By the time I became a landlord, books began having names like "Buy and hold" which was about how to cope with the new realities of this less friendly real estate climate. Glancing over those outdated ideas on how to get rich quick in real estate is an interesting snapshot of the housing market decades after WWII ended which was still benefiting from the policies and economic realities that sprang from that defining moment when our Boys Came Home.

    EDIT: "Riches for the Poor: The Clemente Course in Humanities" is another book I bought and read during my orgy of reading planning-related books while bedridden. Although it may not seem related to housing policy at all, it finally gave me an understanding of what a solid education truly is, how education differs from mere "training", some fundamental ideas about democracy and history going back to the Classical Greek era, and some other stuff. I bought this book and Seeing Like a State and some others specifically because they seemed "planning" or "urban studies" related without being specifically about the built environment. (This book fit into my plan because I felt it would address the idea of "what makes people poor -- other than a mere lack of money?" -- and I was not disappointed.) I felt that planning tends to err too much in the direction of focusing on The Built Environment and overlooks the people too much. The built environment is meaningless without a fundamental understanding of its relationship to people -- since we build it and since it is supposed to serve our needs but often does so rather poorly. This book helped build upon some of the concepts I got from The City Reader, concepts which finally made me understand why politics is important. Politics is about the sophisticated governing of human communities. I have long been interested in and involved with community-building. I finally understood what politics and policy is about in relation to people and their communities -- cities being one form of human community. So, uh, you could spend a decade on what I have studied to arrive at my present model for this stuff. lol. But I am trying to hit some of the high lights and spell out which pieces were pivotal for me in my comprehension of how all this hangs together. And I hope I am giving enough description for you to be able to discern if you need it or not -- maybe the importance of politics is no mystery to you but it was to me for a long time.
    Last edited by Michele Zone; 19 Dec 2003 at 6:11 AM.

  9. #9
    Member octa girl's avatar
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    some resources

    Hello.

    i would recommend the following books/articles

    Hays, R. Allen. 1995. The Federal Government and Urban Housing: Ideology and Change in Public Policy. Second edition. Albany: State University of New York Press.

    Koebel, C. Theodore, ed. 1998. Shelter and Society: Theory, Research, and Policy for Nonprofit Housing. Albany: State University of New York Press.

    Orlebeke, Charles. (2000). The Evolution of Low-Income Housing Policy, 1949 to 1999. Housing Policy Debate, 11(2), 489-520. available online at the fannie mae website.

    Peter Marcuse. 1986. “Housing Policy and the Myth of the Benevolent State,” Chapter 14 in Critical Perspectives on Housing, Rachel Bratt, Chester Hartman, and Anne Meyerson, eds. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, pp. 248-263

    Landis, John D. 1993. “American Housing Policy: Past, Present, and Future: Introduction.” Berkeley Planning Journal 8: 85.

    good luck. watch out for charles murray - he is a bit conservative for my taste.

  10. #10
    Mark K. Nenno's Ending the Stalemate

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