The Federally Funded American Dream: Public Housing as an Engine for Social Improvement, 1933-1937

Milnarik, Elizabeth Ann, Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia
Wilson, Richard, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia

From the poorhouse to the settlement house, in America private groups, local and state governments had a long history of attempting to improve living conditions for the poor, but the Great Depression brought about the federal government's first foray into low-rent housing. In 1933, as a part of his sweeping New Deal initiatives, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Congress approved funding for low-rent housing and established the Housing Division within the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works (or PW A) to expend these funds. The program had three essential goals; to reinvigorate the stalled construction industry; to clear inner-city slums; and to create good-quality, low rent housing. Organized by Robert Kohn and inspired by the regionalist community building vision of Clarence Stein and Henry Wright, the Housing Division initially offered discounted loans to community groups for low-rent housing construction, but a lack of qualified applicants forced them to abandon their role as loan-provider and construct low-rent housing directly. This direct build program constructed fifty-three projects across the country and in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Although located in small towns like Enid, Oklahoma and big cities like New York, housing from fifty to sixteen hundred families, all of these projects followed a core set of principles developed by the regionalists who formed the Regional Planning Association of America and established as policy by Kohn' s staff. From one-story row houses to four-story apartment buildings, high-quality construction and fully equipped baths and kitchens promised improved conditions for nearly all working class families. In addition, these projects were marked by a careful orchestration of exterior spaces, providing front and rear yards for residents. Designed as unified communities, they tragically failed to recognize that contemporary America, north and south, was largely divided along color lines. This inability to address or accommodate contemporary social conditions proved the central fault of the effort.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
public works, housing, low rent housing

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2015-10-01 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:37:56.

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