THE PUBLIC HOUSING DEBATE



CONTENTS:



Introduction



Does Texas need public housing?



Problems facing public housing



The past:

Beginnings of public housing

Public Works Administration builds public housing

Housing Act of 1937

Public housing in Texas

Special interest, race and local control



Solutions to fix public housing



Postscript: Allen Parkway Village today



For more information



TxLIHIS' work in public housing

copyright 1998 Texas Low Income Housing Information Service

The past: Public Works Administration builds housing
Aerial view of Dallas' Cedar Springs Place, a 'slum clearance project.' (photo: Dallas Public Library)
Cedar Springs Place, the first public housing project in Texas, was built in 1937 in Dallas. (photo: National Archives)
Dr. Stephen Fox
professor
Rice University, Houston
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During the New Deal era of the 1930's, during the Great Depression, there were a number of Americans, sociologists, architects, who were very concrened with issues of low income housing in the United States.

During the 1920's in Europe, in the aftermath of World War I, a number of European governments had embarked on large scale social housing programs, building large housing estates for low income families in the large metropolitan centers of Germany particularly, the Netherlands, France, so that the housing reformers, as they were called in the United States, with the advent of the depression and particularly after Franklin Roosevelt's election as president, had a body of experience and a body of knowledge to refer to.

During the course of Roosevelt's administration there was a sequence of different programs. In the mid-1930's the Public Works Administration undertook a series of approximately fifty demonstration projects in different American states building a different kind of housing called slum clearance housing. These were usually built in the centers of large cities often in existing lower income neighborhoods. They adopted the planning and architectural ideals of European social housing and were carried out -- the goal was to demolish slums and replace them with these new sorts of model communities.

Usually in place of single family houses they grouped new dwelling units into apartment blocks. Most of them were one and two stories, in some larger US cities they were three and four stories, but it was rare for them to be so high as to require an elevator. Usually they were laid out on large acreage sites. There was a very strict separation of vehicular traffic from pedestrian traffic.

The sites were often landscaped so that these apartment blocks stood in park like settings. Often the apartment blocks were aligned fairly rigorously if it was a flat site so that they would have optimum access to ventilation and also to sunlight and this configuration - the German term is Zilenbau - "Z" building - accounted for the organization of these sites with parallel rows of two story, flat roofed apartment blocks. In Texas the 1st public housing complex in the state, Cedar Springs Place in Dallas, was one of these Public Works Administration demonstration projects and it was completed in 1937.
Acting under the authority of emergency powers the Public Works Administration began to build housing in 1933 for low income families. The purpose was not so much to build the housing but to create work. Roosevelt recognized the employment potential of home building. One third of the unemployed were from the building trades. The Public Works Administration had millions of citizens on its payroll at subsistence wages and it needed work for them.
Housing reformers inspecting poor housing in San Antonio in 1930's. (photo: Institute of Texan Cultures)
Poor neighborhood in Galveston which was demolished to build public housing. (photo: National Archives)
Clayton Homes public housing development in Houston illustrates apartment row building style of early public housing developments. (photo: National Archives)
Public housing developments were built to last, with concrete roof and floor and tile block interior and exterior walls. (photo: Houston Public Library)

Opposition to public housing emerges