History Lessons for Today’s Housing Policy: The Political Processes of Making Low-Income Housing Policy

Alexander von Hoffman

W12-5: History offers valuable lessons to policy makers. Among other lessons, it teaches us the reasons that the government adopted the programs that constitute the current housing policy landscape. The political strategies that succeeded in the past illuminate the possibilities for winning approval for and enacting new policies today.  In recent American history, four crises related to housing led the United States government to initiate large-scale housing programs for low-and moderate-income Americans. During the economic crisis of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt‘s New Deal produced the public housing program. In response to the acute housing shortage at the end of World War II, the government took a couple of wrong policy turns before finding a winning formula in the housing component of the G. I. bill. To help solve the urban crisis of the late-1960s, the Johnson administration set a high goal for national housing production and enacted two large low-income housing production programs based on subsidizing private industry. When these programs careened into crisis in the 1970s, Richard Nixon inaugurated a new approach of vouchers, although it would take almost a generation before that policy was fully accepted.  This paper examines the political processes that led to the adoption of new housing policies. It identifies the conditions, political alignments, and ideologies that prevailed in each period and traces the actors and strategies that led to the ultimate adoption of new policies.