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Mary Bell

Housing Crisis Can Be Solved!

(20 May 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 20, 20 May 1946, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The housing crisis in the United States, chronic since the virtual cessation of home-building in 1925, acute during the war, now accentuated by the return of millions of veterans, has reached the boiling point.

In New York City alone, a minimum of 211,000 veterans need immediate housing. In addition to the pressing need of veterans, vast numbers of New Yorkers still live in slum buildings that were condemned in 1885! New York only mirrors the national situation, which will find three million families doubling up by the end of this year.

What is the reason for the crisis? In Europe, the chronic housing shortage that exists under capitalism was intensified in the extreme by blockbusters and firebombs. In Hiroshima and Nagasaki it was settled atomically. But in the United States, untouched by the military aspects of the war, the housing crisis lies directly at the door of the chaos and greed of big business.

Business Refuses to Build

Low cost housing for human need has never been very profitable, so that even the bloodsuckers of investment capital, hungry for every drop of profit, have neglected this field. As a consequence, the building industry is what is termed by Fortune magazine – “that disorganized and warring group of organisms known euphemistically as the building industry.” It has refused to build low-cost homes because this is not a lucrative field for investment.

However, since a mighty roar has swept the nation from labor and the veterans, some segments of capital have seen a possibility in the new market of low-cost homes. But just as big business would not turn a wheel to start producing the weapons for the “Arsenal of Democracy” in the late war until the government had guaranteed its profits, refunds and post-war insurance, so big capital will not move into the housing field until it has a gilt-edged guarantee from the government.

For this reason, plus the fact that this is an election year. Congress came through with a $400 million veterans’ housing subsidy program. This was originally rejected in the House, was whittled down from the $600 million original figure, and finally passed by the Senate (its eyes glued on the votes it hopes will return it to office) and then the House. The bill calls for the construction of 2.7 million houses by the end of 1947, a figure which won’t even meet the need for replacements. Even this subsidy has been decried by private construction interests as “creeping collectivism” and “socialism.”

In addition, the Wagner-Ellender-Taft Bill, squeezed out of a reactionary, labor-baiting Congress by an angry people, provides $143 million per year and will provide about 500,000 low-cost units a year for a few years. There will be immediately provided some 200,000 reconverted Quonset huts for the veterans who have just left them.

Private Industry Will Not Meet Need!

All this is scarcely a dent. At the present pace of construction, for example, the acute crisis in New York City alone will last five years or more!

What’s wrong? Why can’t Congress, which appropriated $417,260,127,310 from 1941 to 1946 for the war, begin to make a dent in a problem where human need is concerned?

Why can’t a country which produced millions of guns, tanks, planes, ships and that $2 billion queen of weapons, the atomic bomb – all for the purpose of destruction – exert itself similarly for the purpose of constructing decent homes for its citizens to live in?

Obviously, housing must be a government job. When the business of mass murder and destruction was involved, the government stepped in, told industry what to produce and what not to produce, how much to produce, how much wages could be paid, etc. Of course, industry in turn had a market guaranteed by the government as well as its profits. Thus was accomplished the miracle of production – for destruction.

Labor Action and WP Propose

Labor Action and the Workers Party propose a $250 billion five-year housing program to clear the slums and build new homes and execute other public projects. This sum is not stupendous.

If some $400 billion were spent in six years of death and annihilation, why cannot $250 billion be spent for the peacetime needs of the people?

We do not think that the present government, the presidential and congressional aides of big business, can realize this program. They have shown that. They have done no more than they have because it is not to the interest of the profiteers that they do more.

Therefore, the solution of the housing crisis lies elsewhere. It lies primarily in the action of the organized labor movement, since it is the working people and the majority of their veteran- allies who are hardest hit and most in need of unprofitable, low-cost houses.

The organized labor movement, which has embarked upon “Operation Dixie” to organize the South, should also undertake to champion an “Operation Housing.” It is only labor, which is the organized spearhead of the little people, which can propose and fight for a real solution. For labor is unmoved by considerations of profit, investments and special interests.

In order to push a program of its own, labor must have its own representatives in Washington, supported by labor and the little people, and directly responsible to them. This means that the CIO, instead of conducting a “purge” of the Democratic Party and trying to elect better instead of worse capitalist politicians, should detach itself from all capitalist parties.

Labor must strike out on its own, form an independent Labor Party which will be based upon a real program in the interests of all the working people and will undertake a housing program geared to human needs and not profits.



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