151 Years of America’s Housing History

151 Years of America’s Housing History

151 Years of America’s Housing History

From the first tenement regulation to work requirements for public-housing residents, these are key moments in housing policy.


1867: The first tenement-law regulation in America is enacted in New York City to ban the construction of rooms without ventilators and apartments without fire escapes.

1923: Under Mayor Daniel Hoan of the Socialist Party, Milwaukee completes construction of the country’s first public-housing project.

1926: New York State passes the Limited Dividend Housing Companies Act, the first significant effort in the country to offer any kind of subsidy for affordable housing.

1934: The National Housing Act establishes the Federal Housing Administration, which insures mortgages for small, owner-occupied suburban homes as well as private multi-family housing.

1937: Congress passes the Housing Act of 1937. Originally intended to create public housing for poor and middle-income families, it is whittled down to apply only to low-income people.

1942: The Emergency Price Control Act establishes federal rent control for the first time. By January 1945, Scranton, Pennsylvania, is the only city of more than 100,000 residents with unregulated rents.

1944: The GI Bill provides mortgage-loan guarantees for home purchases by veterans.

1955: New York State introduces the Mitchell-Lama program, which subsidizes the construction of over 105,000 apartments for moderate- and middle-income residents.

1965: Congress establishes the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in a largely symbolic move to bring housing and slum-clearance programs
to the cabinet level.

1968: Congress passes the Fair Housing Act, which outlaws discrimination in housing and in mortgage lending.

1973: The Nixon administration issues a moratorium on almost all subsidized-housing programs.

1974: The Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 establishes Section 8 housing programs as a replacement for public housing.

1976: The Supreme Court rules, in Hills v. Gautreaux, that the Chicago Housing Authority contributed to racial segregation in Chicago through discriminatory practices. HUD begins offering vouchers in the city to address poverty and segregation.

1982: Under Ronald Reagan, HUD’s budget is slashed to under $40 billion, a decrease of more than 50 percent from 1976, when it was $83.6 billion.

1986: Reagan introduces the low-income housing tax credit, which remains the primary source of federal funding for low-cost housing today.

1992: Congress authorizes the HOPE VI urban-revitalization demonstration program to provide grants to support low-rise, mixed-income housing rather than high-rise public housing to address a severe lack of funding for repairs. Atlanta uses its funds to clear slums and construct mostly private housing, an approach copied by cities across the country.

1996: Bill Clinton announces the “one strike and you’re out” initiative to evict public-housing tenants who have criminal convictions.

2005: HUD conducts its first official point-in-time count of homeless people in the country.

2007: The housing market crashes. Nearly 3 million homes are foreclosed on in both 2009 and 2010.

The Obama administration creates the Rental Assistance Demonstration program, which authorizes the transformation of public housing into private-sector Section 8 housing.

2012: The Section 8 waiting lists stretch so long that nearly half of them are simply closed.

2018: HUD Secretary Ben Carson proposes raising the rent for tenants in subsidized housing as well as enabling public-housing authorities to impose work requirements.

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