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Sprawling public housing projects like Chicago's Cabrini–Green were one result of the Housing Act of 1949.

The American Housing Act of 1949 (Title V of P.L. 81-171) was a landmark, sweeping expansion of the federal role in mortgage insurance and issuance and the construction of public housing. It was part of President Harry Truman's program of domestic legislation, the Fair Deal.


The main elements of the Act included:[1]

  • providing federal financing for slum clearance programs associated with urban renewal projects in American cities (Title I),
  • increasing authorization for the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage insurance (Title II),
  • extending federal money to build more than 800,000 public housing units (Title III)
  • fund research into housing and housing techniques, and
  • permitting the FHA to provide financing for rural homeowners.

Creation of the legislation[edit]

In the State of the Union address unveiling the Fair Deal, Truman observed that "Five million families are still living in slums and firetraps. Three million families share their homes with others." He also presented a policy statement on housing:

The housing shortage continues to be acute. As an immediate step, the Congress should enact the provisions for low-rent public housing, slum clearance, farm housing, and housing research which I have repeatedly recommended. The number of lowrent public housing units provided for in the legislation should be increased to 1 million units in the next 7 years. Even this number of units will not begin to meet our need for new housing.

Most of the houses we need will have to be built by private enterprise, without public subsidy. By producing too few rental units and too large a proportion of high-priced houses, the building industry is rapidly pricing itself out of the market. Building costs must be lowered.

The Government is now engaged in a campaign to induce all segments of the building industry to concentrate on the production of lower priced housing. Additional legislation to encourage such housing will be submitted.

The authority which I have requested, to allocate materials in short supply and to impose price ceilings on such materials, could be used, if found necessary, to channel more materials into homes large enough for family life at prices which wage earners can afford.[2]

In Congress, the bill was sponsored by Republican Sen. Robert A. Taft.[3]


The Act was of great importance in that it governed the way the immense financial resources of the federal government would shape the growth of American cities in the post-war era. For instance, in one survey of the top "influences on the postwar American metropolis," the FHA's mortgage financing program ranks second and urban renewal programs rank fourth.[4] The law facilitated a rise in homeownership and the building of huge public housing projects that would become fixtures in many American cities.

The legislation's legacy is mixed, particularly with regard to the success of the urban renewal and public housing elements. The government fell far short of its goal to build 810,000 units of new public housing by 1955, providing little aid to cities suffering from housing shortages. In fact, because of projects like Lincoln Center, a New York City cultural development including 4400 apartments for which 7000 apartments were torn down, the Act's urban redevelopment programs actually destroyed more housing units than they built.[5]

Meanwhile, the massive urban redevelopment efforts prompted by the Act came under fire for poor planning, failings with regard to social equity and fairness, and sometimes corruption (see, e.g., Manhattantown). Urban renewal also came under fire for discriminating against minorities, in that it often resulted in minority-heavy slums being destroyed and replaced with more expensive housing or non-residential public works that were not accommodating to the original inhabitants. The slogan adopted by critics equated "urban renewal" with "Negro removal."[6]

The federal government spent $13.5 billion on urban redevelopment and slum clearance projects between 1953 and 1986.[7]


  1. ^ Summary of Provisions of the National Housing Act of 1949
  2. ^ Truman, Harry. 1949 State of the Union address
  3. ^ http://www.mi.vt.edu/data/files/hpd%2011(2)/hpd%2011(2)_editor's%20introduction.pdf, 293
  4. ^ The interstate highway program topped the list
  5. ^ Caro, Robert. The Power Broker. Vintage: 1974, p. 1014.; [1]
  6. ^ Rusk, David. Inside Game Outside Game. Brookings Institution, 1999. p. 90. Clarence Thomas refers to this phrase and writes: "Urban renewal projects have long been associated with the displacement of blacks; ..." Kelo v. New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005) [2]
  7. ^ Rusk, David. Inside Game Outside Game. Brookings Institution, 1999. p. 90.

Further reading[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Housing_Act_of_1949 — Please support Wikipedia.
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87 news items

News & Observer

News & Observer
Tue, 03 Nov 2015 12:03:45 -0800

The Housing Act of 1949 also made low-interest mortgages available for the first time in American history. It was an opportunity for working-class and middle-class people to become homeowners. But it was largely limited to whites through the process of ...


Fri, 04 Sep 2015 06:41:15 -0700

Title II, Section 202 of the National Industrial Recovery Act, passed June 16, 1933. In 1949 President Harry S. Truman signed into law The Housing Act of 1949, enacted to establish “a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American ...


Wed, 02 Sep 2015 08:40:09 -0700

The Housing Act of 1949, a tentpole of President Harry Truman's Fair Deal, greatly expanded the reach of the public housing program, which was then producing the most popular form of housing (!) in the country. In an effort to kill the bill ...


Thu, 03 Sep 2015 04:46:35 -0700

Dewey Defeats Truman/The Housing Act of 1949 runs from September 15, 2015 through January 9, 2016 in the Museum's Main Exhibit Hall. The show/reception takes place on September 24, when attendees can tour the exhibit and enjoy light refreshments.
Back Bay Sun
Thu, 17 Sep 2015 04:15:00 -0700

Having actually won re-election, President Truman would go on to establish the Housing Act of 1949 in response to mounting demand for housing nationally. The legislation provided cities across the country with funding for “slum clearance,” a ...

Next City

Next City
Tue, 29 Sep 2015 04:48:45 -0700

The exhibit is titled “Dewey Defeats Truman/The Housing Act of 1949,” which, according to Boston.com, “is a nod to an infamous headline from the Chicago Daily Tribune that incorrectly said President Harry S. Truman had lost his campaign for re-election.

Law Street Media

Law Street Media
Fri, 09 Oct 2015 14:11:15 -0700

The movement was crystallized in Title 1 of the Housing Act of 1949: the Urban Renewable Program, which promised to eliminate slums, replace them with adequate housing, and invigorate local economies. The act failed, however, in one of its other main ...

New York Daily News

New York Daily News
Sat, 06 Jun 2015 02:00:00 -0700

Providing “a decent home and a suitable living environment for ever American family” was the goal of the National Housing Act of 1949. So many decades later, we must recommit to that goal so New Yorkers can continue to call this city and state their home.

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