The religious, cultural, and civic life that is the birthright of every American starts in and is developed in the home. The home is the central unit of the community, the state, and the nation. That fact must never be forgotten by the men charged with the responsibility for determining public policy. The right to a good home is one of the noblest motives in the American way of life – it is inherent in the heart and soul of every American and should be the cornerstone of all public policy. Yet we are today facing the gravest housing shortage in our country’s history. A glance at the want ads revealing tragic pleas of families in desperate need of housing is a reminder of the very real crisis at hand. Families with young babies are jammed into fire trap attics, into damp basements and abandoned sheds. The New York City Transportation Board recently announced the proposed sale of obsolete trolley cars with the very serious suggestion that they might be used as temporary homes. Think of it – Life in a Trolley Car: A stark reminder of want in the land of plenty.
The Boston office of the National Housing Authority estimates that about 140,000 veterans and their families would be forced to "double up" with relatives by the end of the year, and the Rt. Rev. Monsignor Thomas R. Reynolds, speaking at a recent Housing Forum at the Boston Public Library, said that unless immediate housing is provided, divorces will increase and young families will be broken up by discord with in-laws. It is a significant fact today, that the Boston divorce dockets are so crowded that a case cannot even be marked for trial until next November.
Housing is a very real and urgent problem. It calls for leaders in Congress who are trained to analyze the deep economic forces that create the problem and the complicated but necessary remedies which mean its solution. The veteran should have full value for his building dollar – and have it now! To give SHELTER is not enough – the structure should be a HOME with all the comforts and conveniences that modern engineering and science can provide. The same enterprise, skill and speed that went into the construction of the modern plane in which he fought should go into the house in which he has a right to live.
For years the quality products of American factories were channeled into the war effort. They must now be channeled into building the American home.
The products ARE available. Dr. Wilson Compton, president of the State College of Washington and a recognized authority on lumber and forest products for more than a quarter century, states:
"There is at present, in round figures, 1,500 billion board feet of mature saw timber. If the country’s needs demand the equivalent of, say, 50 billion feet a year, which is enough to cover lumber production, plywood, paper, pulp production, fuel woods, ties, posts, shingles and the hundreds of new products made from wood, the supply standing in the forest ready to harvest would last over 30 years without considering new growth. This also allows for losses by fire, the forest’s number one enemy, and insects and disease."
In 1943, for example, there were approximately 450 billion feet of saw timber in the old growth timber stands in the West Coast fir regions of Oregon and Washington. That would provide lumber to rebuild every dwelling in the United States. Yet a representative of the lumber industry recently appeared before a committee of the Massachusetts legislature on housing and reported that there just isn’t any lumber around to DO the job. He said there wasn’t enough lumber in any ONE lumber yard in the STATE to build ONE complete house and that the situation was getting worse instead of better! Is this situation to continue? Are we to lie supinely on our backs and do nothing?
During the war airplane hangars 200 feet long, 50 feet high, with a span of 197 feet were rolled off the production lines so compactly made that, except for weight, they could be loaded into a single freight car. Why can’t this ingenuity solve the housing problem and solve it now! Let us speed production in our mines, our forests and our factories. We did it for war, we certainly can do it for PEACE!
I believe further in a definite program of low cost housing that is really both low cost and Housing! In his desperate need for adequate housing, today’s veteran is often forced on the one hand into the cruel bargain of buying a new home at an inflated price he cannot honestly afford to pay, or he is, on the other hand, forced to buy a temporary makeshift structure that can never be a real home and will ultimately end up in the loss of almost his entire investment.
A recent survey showed that 84% of the recently discharged veterans are unable to pay more than $50 a month for rent or carrying charges; and that to satisfy veterans’ needs the bulk of new home construction must fall within the $6000 price range to be within reach of most veterans. Recent figures of the United States Savings and Loan League show that the average purchase price of veterans’ homes was around $4700.
According to the figures of 1940, the last year in which such figures were compiled, two thirds of the rent payers of Greater Boston were spending only $26 and $40 a month for rent.
It is obvious therefore that to solve today's problem, housing must be really low cost or the veteran is being deceived.
Let us have less talk about conferences, programs, theories, and panel discussions. Homes are not made of talk – they are made with blue prints and hammers and nails. Hot air may heat them but it doesn't get them built!
I believe therefore in the following specific recommendations in meeting the present Housing Shortage and the need for low cost homes:
- Continued preference for veterans’ families with appropriate provision for non-veteran cases involving special hardship.
- Greatly expanded mass production of building materials, resulting in lower cost of construction.
- Increased insistence on priorities for home building over deferrable, non-essential commercial construction.
- Wage and price adjustments where necessary and not unduly inflationary, to be absorbed by increased output at lower cost per unit.
- Use of former war plants for production of home building materials, with the skills of war production utilized for peace.
- The revision of archaic, old-fashioned, outmoded building codes that restrict new construction at every turn.
- Cooperation by local cities and towns in installing utility facilities to reduce cost of the building.
- Channeling the greatest amount of building materials into the lower cost homes.
- An emphasis on the IMMEDIATE conversion of large partly used houses into available three and four room attractive kitchenette apartments for the veteran who is not yet ready for home ownership.
- Putting an end to inflationary speculative dealing in housing.
Houses must be sold for homes, not for speculation.
I feel that you have been patient throughout a somewhat dull talk and I should much prefer to have given you a stirring political speech, with a lot of oratory. But these are SOBER – yes, DESPERATE times. It is a time for men of sincerity, for men who are willing to face the facts – however dull – and see these problems through to a solution.
The housing problem like our other great political, social, and industrial problems facing Congress today, must be studied and acted upon by alert Congressman, willing and able to study intricate matters debated by expert witnesses. Our legislation can be only as good as the quality of the Congressmen who serve. The stream cannot rise above its source.
It is a time to retire the old time politician – it is a time for STATESMANSHIP. I speak sincerely, therefore, from my deep conviction. I talked with the veterans during the long years of the war and I know what they are expecting. I aspire to be your Congressman because I have a sincere desire to serve. If you believe in what I stand for I earnestly ask your support in the coming Primary, June 18th and respectfully ask you to vote for John F. Kennedy for Congress.
Source: David F. Powers Personal Papers, Box 28, "Housing Speech, 1946." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.