1937 Housing Act


Recognizing an “acute shortage of decent, safe, and sanitary housing for low-income families,” the federal government under Franklin Delano Roosevelt launched a public housing program that would, at its peak, include over a millions units. Also called the Wagner-Steagall Act, the Housing Act of 1937 was a victory for social housing advocates. Under it, the federal government provided loans to local housing authorities covering 90% of the cost of building new public housing projects.  FDR himself believed decent housing to be a right, and proposed that it be included in a “second Bill of Rights” for the Constitution. Yet public housing residents in this initial phase included not only very low-income families, but middle-class ones who had fallen on hard times during the Great Depression. This meant that many could pay enough rent to make the public housing program sustainable. It was not until the 1960s that suburbanization and much lower income limits emptied public housing of middle-class families.


Photo: Hooverville in Seattle, Washington. June 10, 1937. University of Washington Library Digital Collection.
“FDR and Housing Legislation.” FDR Presidential Library and Museum. https://fdrlibrary.org/housing
Charles Edson. “Affordable Housing: An Intimate History.” American Bar Association, pp.1-20.