United States Housing Authority

The United States Housing Authority, or USHA, was an agency created during 1937 as part of the New Deal.

It was designed to lend money to the states or communities for low-cost construction. Units for about 650,000 low-income people were started. Progressives early in the 20th century had argued that improving the physical environment of poorer citizens would improve their quality of life and chances for success (and cause better social behavior). As governor of New York, Al Smith began public housing programs for low income employed workers. New York Senator Robert F. Wagner carried those beliefs into the 1930s, when he was a power in Congress. From 1933-37, the Public Works Administration under Harold Ickes razed 10,000 slum units and built 22,000 new units, with the primary goal of providing construction jobs. Ickes was a strong friend of blacks and reserved half the units for them. The courts ruled the PWA lacked eminent domain power to condemn slums, so the Wagner-Steagall bill, the Housing Act of 1937, envisioned a long term federal role under the new agency, the United States Housing Authority.

This Act was strongly influenced by Catherine Bauer. She became its Director of Information and Research, a position she held for two years.

The private sector saw an economic danger in nationalized housing, and insisted that there be a clear differentiation between the main housing industry and welfare programs focused on people too poor to buy but who were worthy and deserved help. There was a concerted effort, in the words of Senator Wagner, at "avoiding competition" between the private and public sectors. The law required a 20 percent gap between the upper income limits for admission to public housing projects and the lowest limits at which the private sector provided decent housing. Wagner obtained support from conservative leaders Robert A. Taft and Allen Ellender to guarantee a bipartisan approach. Ellender insisted and civil rights groups accepted, that the units be racially segregated. Critics eventually pointed to the culture of poverty, violence, drugs, crime and hopelessness that thrived in the "vertical ghetto" as a refutation of the original Progressive theory.

Defenders of public housing point out that the program was beset with limitations at its outset, has never been truly fully funded, and continues to serve a limited income population that the private real estate sector has never tried to serve.


* Aaron Henry. "Shelter and Subsidies: Who Benefits from Federal Housing Policies?" The Brookings Institution. 1972.
* Fisher Robert. "Twenty Years of Public Housing." Harper and Brothers. 1959.
* Friedman, Lawrence M. "Government and Slum Housing: A Century of Frustration" (1968)
* Hirsch Arnold R. "Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960" Cambridge University Press 1983.
* J. Joseph Huthmacher. "Senator Robert F. Wagner and the Rise of Urban Liberalism" (1968)
* Moore William. "The Vertical Ghetto". Random House. 1969.
* Rainwater Lee. "Behind Ghetto Walls: Black Family Life in a Federal Slum". Aldine. 1970

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