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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:

  • 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.[1]

In Congress, the bill was sponsored by Republican Sen. Robert A. Taft.[2]


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.[3] 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.[4]

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."[5]

The federal government spent $13.5 billion on urban redevelopment and slum clearance projects between 1953 and 1986.[6]


  1. ^ Truman, Harry. 1949 State of the Union address
  2. ^ http://www.mi.vt.edu/data/files/hpd%2011(2)/hpd%2011(2)_editor's%20introduction.pdf, 293
  3. ^ The interstate highway program topped the list
  4. ^ Caro, Robert. The Power Broker. Vintage: 1974, p. 1014.; [www.fanniemaefoundation.org/programs/hpd/pdf/hpd_1102_edintro.pdf]
  5. ^ 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) [1]
  6. ^ 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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264 news items

Mail Tribune
Sun, 03 May 2015 00:07:30 -0700

In response, the federal Housing Act of 1949 created the Federal Housing Administration, mortgage insurance, and funded the construction of 800,000 public housing apartments. The thrust of the new law was to increase the amount of lower priced housing ...


Wed, 29 Apr 2015 12:38:59 -0700

At the time the NAACP registered its protest, [Housing and Home Finance Agency] data indicated that Chicago and Baltimore served as exemplars of the Housing Act of 1949 in action. The 266 slum sites already selected for the Title III public housing ...

Next City

Next City
Wed, 29 Apr 2015 05:56:15 -0700

But while contemporary updates are needed, it's important to acknowledge the failures of urban renewals of yesterday — and the physical and emotional scars left in the wake of the American Housing Act of 1949, which saw federally endorsed inequitable ...

Heber Springs Sun-Times

Toledo Blade
Sun, 12 Apr 2015 21:02:51 -0700

Addressing Congress 80 years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt called adequate housing a right of every American family willing to work. The Housing Act of 1949 set national goals that included “a decent home and a suitable living environment for every ...

NYU Local

NYU Local
Tue, 21 Apr 2015 10:03:45 -0700

Built as part of a slum-clearing project planned by urban planner Robert Moses as part of the Housing Act of 1949, the plan created three “superblocks” of faculty and graduate student housing, while displacing those who lived in the now-razed tenements.
Times Herald-Record
Fri, 17 Apr 2015 13:09:38 -0700

In response, the federal Housing Act of 1949 created the Federal Housing Administration, mortgage insurance, and funded the construction of 800,000 public housing apartments. The thrust of the new law was to increase the amount of lower priced housing ...

The State Journal-Register

The State Journal-Register
Sat, 25 Apr 2015 20:05:43 -0700

Rents are rising, and the work poor are spending more each month on housing, forcing tough choices between shelter and essentials, such as food and medicine. While local programs offer some assistance, the federal government has no appetite for ...

The Guardian

The Guardian
Wed, 22 Apr 2015 04:52:45 -0700

Commissioned to design a public housing project federally financed under the Housing Act of 1949, the Japanese-American architect at first came up with a mixed-rise cluster of buildings. Objecting to the price of his plan, the Public Housing ...

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