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Chapter Eight— From Scattered Opinion to Centralized Policy
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Working for a Single Ideal

When urban reformers set their architectural agenda for the new city, they realized they had to do more than


control bad housing. They also had to promote correct housing, their favorite being the uniform and protected single-use residential district of private houses with open lots. An underside of the process of defining housing ideals was the necessity of drawing the line where housing stopped and mere shelter began—or as later urban renewal officers put it, the line between standard housing and substandard housing. The definition of "standard" would come to insist on private kitchens and private baths, precisely the two items that most hotels did not provide.

At Hoover's presidential conference on housing in 1932, the Committee on Housing and the Community enunciated again the housing specialists' long-standing model:

The ideal conditions for any family would be a single detached house surrounded by a plot of ground, with adequate lawns and facilities for a small flower and vegetable garden and play space.[49]

The 1932 committee closely matched the phrase "any family" with the single detached house: like the California Supreme Court, they could not conceive of a minority opinion among people who preferred apartment or hotel life. Moreover, electric trolleys, automobiles, and longerterm mortgages had made the open-lot house more possible.

For several generations, preeminent concern for the welfare of children had figured heavily in the evolution of the reformers' choice. When Veiller spoke of "labor" and "workingmen" he meant laboring men with families, and inevitably he followed with a reference to "making family life possible" or concern for "wives and families." Veiller insisted that the "normal method of housing in America" should be small houses on their own "small bit of land," offering "a secure sense of individuality and opportunity for real domestic life" and the suburban advantages of healthful play for children.[50] The CIH proudly published its model rural work camps for single workers but never considered model dwellings for single workers in the city. In 1915, the commission proclaimed that the comprehensive city plan "should provide for detached one-family houses, with lawn and room for rear garden. This is the ideal arrangement."[51] Soon the ideal form of housing became the only acceptable form.

Whether or not they housed children, apartments and hotels both fared poorly in expressions of housing ideals. E. R. L. Gould, the foun-


der of New York's City and Suburban Homes Company, reminded his colleagues that for the better-paid worker, model apartments would be (at best) an intermediate stage between the "promiscuous and common life" of existing city forms and "the dignified, well-ordered life of the detached house." Edith Elmer Wood wrote that "the only excuse for apartments is for celibates, childless couples, and elderly people."[52] In practical application, however, the apartment had to be accepted in local and national construction programs. Physical separation of each family unit remained of paramount importance—the minimum elements of division being the private kitchen and private bath for each unit.[53]

For some time a minority of reformers doubted the necessity of private kitchens for every family. Social workers at a national conference in 1912 called for an indoor bathroom for each low-income family but not private cooking. New York City's housing reformers, however, had insisted on private kitchens in definitions of tenements and apartments written in 1887 and 1910. In these influential codes, an apartment was a unit in a building for three or more families "living independently of one another and doing their own cooking."[54] By the 1920s, the kitchen gained universal consideration as an essential element in the definition of a dwelling unit. By 1950, the U.S. Census defined an apartment's "separateness and self-containment" on the presence of separate cooking equipment for each household.[55]

Limiting the housing ideal required that hotels and lodging houses be legally defined as inferior to apartment buildings. That process had begun with the writing of state building codes but was most effectively accomplished with the establishment of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Under Title I of the National Housing Act of 1936, Congress stated that property improvement loans could be secured for any residence or commercial building, specifically including hotels and clubs. Yet the act also required that the FHA eliminate risks as much as possible for the investors of the funds.[56] That was the sticking point. The 1936 FHA Property Standards set the most influential definition of proper housing to that date, with strong exclusionary language about hotels. Although the guidelines defined a dwelling as "any structure used principally for residential purposes," they carefully stated that "commercial rooming houses and tourist homes, sanitariums, tourist cabins, clubs, or fraternities would not be considered dwellings


within the meaning of the National Housing Act" that had created the FHA. A proper living unit required a private kitchen and a private bath.[57] Although this proscription was largely meant to exclude ad hoc rooming houses from federal aid, it was to prove handy in discriminating against single-room housing with or without federal aid.

Simultaneously, the minimum Property Standards stated that "the [insured] property should be located in a neighborhood homogeneous in character," a neighborhood sure to avoid "inharmonious land uses." In the FHA's codification of the real estate industry's values, residential hotels and their mixed-use neighborhoods were categorically "undesirable community conditions"; they "decreased mortgage security."[58] National underwriting manuals of the FHA appraisers gave low ratings to any residential property in a crowded neighborhood, one with racial mixtures, or one with a mixture of "adverse influences" defined as stores, offices, or rental units. These redlining policies extended the biases of zoning to the realms of investment and repair funding. Simultaneously, controls over rental properties were more complicated than for owner-occupied housing; most loans for repair of existing structures were small and short term. With the FHA it was easier to purchase a new building. Hence, FHA insurance helped new houses and apartments at the urban edge far more than any housing or infill in the center city.[59] In the 1950s, many cities further narrowed the definition of a standard dwelling by rewriting their older zoning ordinances to exclude rooming houses from the definition of multiple-family dwellings.[60]

With the national FHA property standards, underwriting manuals, and the increased importance of the income tax preference for single-family house ownership, real estate lobbyists and housing activists had successfully established suburban single-family houses and occasional apartments as the sole ideals for new American house types (fig. 8.14).[61] Meanwhile, during the depression and World War II, other government offices began a hotel control process far less observable but much more insidious.

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