Chapter 1-nar

Chapter 1

U.S. Federal Housing Administration

The National Housing Act of 1934 proposed a new plan to boost the depression economy and solve the housing shortage. Building a house involved the largest number of trades, apart from agriculture, and could potentially employ the largest number of workers.[1] The new American house was created to mobilize banks, workers and material suppliers for a profit-making project. The logistics of that project formed the template for new suburban development. The act set up the Federal Housing Administration which was to inspect and evaluate a project's eligibility for FHA insurance and would then insure the lending institution, not the homeowner, against the risk of default. Insurance premiums paid to the FHA would make it self-supporting, and for the home buyer, the long term low interest mortgage would make monthly payments that were often cheaper than rent. The FHA became the leader of a massive public and private cooperation in home-building, and the agency's promotional literature and technical bulletins from before and after the war very graphically trace how the idea of suburbia was reshaped from the template of banking structures and new home-building techniques and how not only home-building, but the entire idea of suburbia became a major U.S. industry.

The Better Homes Campaign was run like a cross between an ad campaign a "war bond drive."[2] Of the many FHA documents, a few in particular underscore the ways in which the government deputized the financial, real estate, and home building industries. The earliest NHA documents were promotional brochures aimed at architects, contractors, building suppliers, property owners, merchants, manufacturers, advertising agencies, and publishers in an attempt to both disseminate information and drum up enthusiasm. The copy for each of the bulletins is written with punchy boosterism illustrated with pictures of parades and the posters, buttons, car cards and brochures that could be purchased from the government to kick off a local campaign. Magazines, women's organizations, newspaper and exhibitions were brought into the act. In 1934 as part of this massive publicity campaign, "4,000 communities were organized, 3 million door-to-door canvass calls were made. More than a thousand newspaper carried better-housing sections." [3] The frontispiece for one of these promotional pamphlet, a cartoon showing Uncle Sam ushering industry representatives to a hill top entitled "Better Housing Program," demonstrates the main thrust of the campaign. The building trades, auto industry, advertising, clothing and furniture representatives are joined by those from banking and insurance as Uncle Sam gleefully gestures to a castle on the hill top, and the caption reads, "Thar's gold in them thar hills!"[4]

[1] U.S. F.H.A. Bulletin for Manufacturers Advertising Agencies and Publishers (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1934), 5.

[2] U.S. F.H.A. The FHA Story in Summary: 1934-1959 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1959), 9.

[3] Ibid.

[4] U.S. F.H.A. Bulletin for Manufacturers Advertising Agencies and Publishers, 3.