Why Suburban American Homeowners Were Accused of Being a 'Profit-Making Cartel' in the 1970sBreaking News
tags: suburban history, suburbia
There’s a good deal of mythos around the idea that America is an “ownership society,” and an important part of maintaining that mythos is a politics that regards a request to build public housing to alleviate crowding as a communist plot yet considers the federal government greasing the sale of single-family houses as free-market forces at work. In the post-World War II period, as the nation confronted a housing shortage that was even more dramatic than today’s, federal programs also supported construction of apartments, but the dream of owning a house was ingrained in the American conscience. Renters were regarded as people who had failed, and buyers’ preference for detached houses with a small yard were rooted in pastoral notions older than the country. Compact buildings like row houses and cooperatives (a precursor to condominiums) were doomed to be a sliver of the market.
It was a good time to be a home builder. Beyond the explosion in demand, the federal government had bought into the real estate industry’s contention that the loan insurance programs developed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) during the Depression should continue to provide a generous backstop to the private housing market, allowing far more people to qualify for mortgages and creating an even more vast market for single-family houses. Builders started construction on 114,000 homes in 1944. They started 1.7 million in 1950. The surge of new building transformed America’s real estate industry from a collection of small one-at-a-time or a-few-at-a-time home builders to a business that was dominated by a handful of large regional builders that squeezed and streamlined until the haphazard world of outdoor construction was a tight industrial process on par with a General Motors assembly line.
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