As President Obama prepared to sign the stimulus bill this week, we decided to showcase a valuable part of our collection: original documents and reports from FDR’s New Deal. Given the stimulus’ emphasis on reducing housing loan payments for owners, investing in rental housing for low-income families and the need for bipartisan support for the sweeping changes, reading the actual documents of the New Deal housing programs provides a unique insight into the policy directions of 2009. Th e New Deal is a topic that is dear to CHPC’s heart. We were established in 1937, in the era of the Public Works Administration, to fight for an accompanying public housing bill to sit alongside the other extraordinary housing policy responses to the Great Depression.

FDR – “A Fireside for Every Family”

One of the most astonishing discoveries in our archives has been the 1935 leather-bound, confidential report prepared for President Roosevelt entitled “Home Sweet Home: A Fireside for Every Family.” It sets out the progress that had already been made by 1935, summarizes the concepts behind FDR’s housing intervention and puts forward the next steps for the country. Excerpts from this document can be seen in the link below.

By the time this report was written, the National Housing Act of 1934 was already in motion, restructuring and subsidizing the private housing market. As the report says, “With the full cooperation of the Congress we have already made a serious attack upon the problems of housing in our great cities.” Th e Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was established to handle new mortgage insurance programs that would reduce the size of loans for family homes and multifamily mortgages, and the Act also authorized the FHA to create the Federal National Mortgage Association— Fannie Mae—to provide a secondary market where home mortgages could be sold.

In addition to this intensive federal effort to stimulate housing construction and make ownership easier, Senator Robert Wagner put forward a public housing bill that would continue in the same vein as the Public Works Administration programs to stimulate jobs and improve public welfare. From 1937, the United States Public Housing Authority began to directly subsidize local public housing agencies to construct publicly-owned, permanently affordable, low rent housing for low income households across the country.

CHPC’s archives also contain a multitude of fascinating pamphlets related to the development of the national public housing program. Excerpts from “What the Housing Act Can Do For Your City,” published in 1938, can also be seen under the link below.

Download a pdf of the full report here.