Are you reading this from the comfort of your house or apartment? You may, at least in part, have the Wagner-Steagall Housing Act, also known as the Housing Act of 1937, to thank. This key piece of late-New Deal legislation helped establish adequate housing as a basic right for all Americans. But, like pretty much every modern bill to reach congress, it didn’t pass without a fight. Landlords and the real estate industry were concerned that low-cost housing would undercut the rental and sales market, congress’ fiscal conservatives feared its budgetary impact, and congressman hailing from rural areas wondered whether the law would help cities rather than their small communities. After years of stalemates between public housing crusader
Senator Robert Wagner of New York and banking committee chairman Rep. Henry Steagall of Alabama, President Roosevelt made heard his support for housing reform in both his 1937 State of the Union and his second inaugural address. Roosevelt then went on to lobby behind the scenes, saw the bill sent to a vote in congress, and signed the Wagner-Steagall Housing Act on September 1, 1937. The law established the United States Housing Authority (USHA), which went on to provide $500 million — a pretty serious chunk of change 80 years ago — in loans toward low-cost housing projects for low-income Americans across the United States.
For more moments in housing history, check out the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® timeline.