Two desperately sensible New Deal proposals for low-rent public housing, designed to facilitate "a better community life."
UNIT PLANS: Suggestions for the interior arrangement of low-rent dwellings [with] PLANNING THE SITE: Design of Low-Rent Housing Projects
"The purpose of public housing is to improve the health, happiness, and social usefulness of the low-income groups in the community."
Pair of publications from the United States Housing Authority, a New Deal agency created by the Housing Act of 1937 and designed to facilitate the creation of low-cost housing for low-income Americans through lending and other assistance. Strange though it seems to modern students of history, promoting the general welfare of the citizenry was at that time considered by many people to be a primary function of government, and a good idea. Housing the houseless, in particular, was an activity then in vogue, carried out by the Public Works Administration under Harold Ickes and by the USHA under the Information and Research Directorship of Catherine Bauer; this elegant solution has since fallen out of fashion for reasons never adequately explained to those without housing or, indeed, to anyone else.
The 1938 volume, Unit Plans, "prepared by the United States Housing Authority as an aid to the architect and the engineer as an aid in developing his own plans for low-rent housing units in the solution of a specific problem. In no case are the plans to be interpreted as standard or required plans." These plans set out the minimum acceptable room sizes, criteria for allowing "adequate sun-light penetration and air circulation", and other basic living standards; the foreword sensibly explains that livability must precede economy as a concern, for without a basic standard of livability, cost savings are of no use. The remainder of the document contains specs and sample floor plans for units and houses of various sizes and types.
The 1939 volume, Planning the Site, moves beyond consideration of individual living spaces to their harmonious arrangement within a community: USHA Administrator Straus writes in the foreword on the need for urban planning to prevent the harmful conditions which no single building, however well-built, can militate against: "Failure to plan cities, failure to provide parks, and failure to build for the income levels of the population where the need is greatest—all may create conditions which produce slums." This document thus lays out objectives for the site planner: space for private as well as public gardens and green spaces; play space for young children; gathering spaces for adults; planting alternatives to avoid water-wasteful and upkeep-heavy grass lawns; maintenance access routes to and orientation of buildings; and much more.
The program of the USHA, never fully funded, was sabotaged further by the desire for bipartisanship and consequent acquiescence to conservative insistence that its housing projects be racially segregated, and to the conservative demand that the federal government avoid competition with the private sector by leaving a large gap between those who could afford private housing and those who could qualify for public housing: thus ensuring the steady supply of poverty and human suffering deemed so essential to the prosperity of the private sector.
A revealing pair of documents from the heart of The New Deal.
(Washington, D.C.): (Department of the Interior), 1938, 1939. Two oblong comb-bound volumes. Paper covers. Unit Plans, 1938: Illustrated in black and white throughout. 84 pages. Minor page toning and moderate shelfwear. Planning the Site, 1939: 10 pages, followed by  unnumbered leaves. Some chipping and small tears to covers; substantial creasing to edges. Faint red pencil to covers of both volumes.
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