YOU HAVE COME from every State in the Union to consider a matter of basic national interest. Your purpose is to consider it in its long view rather than its emergency aspects. Next to food and clothing the housing of a nation is its most vital social and economic problem. This Conference has been called especially to consider one great segment of that problem-that is, in what manner can we facilitate the ownership of homes and how can we protect the owners of homes?
The Conference also has before it some phases of that other great segment of housing; that is, the standards of tenement and apartment dwellings. While at this time we give primary emphasis to homeownership in city, town, and farm, we are all of us concerned in the improvement of city housing. I hope we may at some future time subject the question of city housing to more definitely organized national intelligence through which we shall further establish standards which will give impetus to public understanding and public action to this, the question of blighted areas and slums in many of our great cities. I am confident that the sentiment for homeownership is so embedded in the American heart that millions of people who dwell in tenements, apartments, and rented rows of solid brick have the aspiration for wider opportunity in ownership of their own homes. To possess one's own home is the hope and ambition of almost every individual in our country, whether he lives in hotel, apartment, or tenement.
While the purpose of this Conference is to study and advise upon the very practical questions of home design, of materials, of building regulations, of zoning, of taxes, of transportation, of financing, of parks and playgrounds, and other topics, yet behind it all every one of you here is impelled by the high ideal and aspiration that each family may pass their days in the home which they own; that they may nurture it as theirs; that it may be their castle in all that exquisite sentiment which it surrounds with the sweetness of family life. This aspiration penetrates the heart of our national well-being. It makes for happier married life, it makes for better children, it makes for confidence and security, it makes for courage to meet the battle of life, it makes for better citizenship. There can be no fear for a democracy or self-government or for liberty or freedom from homeowners no matter how humble they may be.
There is a wide distinction between homes and mere housing. Those immortal ballads, Home, Sweet Home; My Old Kentucky Home; and the Little Gray Home in the West, were not written about tenements or apartments. They are the expressions of racial longing which find outlet in the living poetry and songs of our people. They were written about an individual abode, alive with the tender associations of childhood, the family life at the fireside, the free out of doors, the independence, the security, and the pride in possession of the family's own home-the very seat of its being.
That our people should live in their own homes is a sentiment deep in the heart of our race and of American life. We know that as yet is not universally possible to all. We know that many of our people must at all times live under other conditions. But they never sing songs about a pile of rent receipts. To own one's own home is a physical expression of individualism, of enterprise, of independence, and of the freedom of spirit. We do not in our imagination attach to a transitory place that expression about a man's home being his castle, no matter what its constitutional rights may be.
But to return to our practical problems. Over 30 committees embracing the collective skill and experience of our country have been voluntarily engaged for the past year in collecting the best of national experience from every part of our country, in collating it into definite recommendations for your consideration. Like the solution of all practical problems, the facts first must be discovered; they must be assembled in their true perspective; and the conclusions to be drawn from them must be the inexorable march of logic. This Conference has not been called primarily on legislative questions. Its major purpose is to stimulate individual action. It seeks a better planned use of our Nation's energies and resources, especially those that are rooted in neighborliness and mutual help, and those that find expression in our great national voluntary organizations, in our schools and colleges, and in our research laboratories. The Conference represents a place in our mastery of the forces that modern science and modern technology place at our disposal. It is not to set up government in the building of homes but to stimulate individual endeavor and make community conditions propitious. The basis of its action is to collate the whole of our experience to date, to establish standards, to advance thought to a new plane from which we may secure a revitalized start upon national progress in the building and owning of homes.
About a year ago we held in Washington such a conference as this in relation to the health and protection of children. 1 That conference established new standards and a new and higher plane of understanding and action. It presented a set of standards and conclusions, and those conclusions, I am informed, have now been printed in literally millions of copies--through the associations which were interested, through State authorities, and municipal authorities. They have penetrated the thought and permeated the practice of the Nation. Many conferences have been called by the Governors of many States, by the mayors of many cities, to consider and apply their conclusions. Their actions have already wielded a powerful influence in the administrative functions of government from the Federal Government down to the smallest community. They have been made the basis of legislative action. They have lifted the sense of public and individual responsibility in the Nation. And it is a result of this kind which we are confidently expecting from this Conference.
1 See 1930 volume, Items 140 and 142.
I notice that some--not the members of these committees--have contended that the development of city and urban life necessarily has driven us to less and less possible ownership of homes. I do not agree with that. The very development of transportation, the advantages of distribution of industry today make the ownership of homes far more feasible and desirable than ever before. But it involves vast problems of city and industrial management which we should have the courage to face. It involves also a great problem of finance. The newly married pair setting out upon the stream of life seldom come to their new state with sufficient resources to purchase or enter upon that great adventure of life of building a home.
It has long been my opinion that we have fairly creditably solved every other segment of our credit structure more effectively than we have solved this one. In normal times the Federal Reserve System has given mobility to financing of commercial transactions. The agricultural banks and the insurance companies have given mobility to farm credit. The public exchanges have given mobility to the financing of industrial credit through stocks and bonds. Through various discount companies we have established mobility for the sale of automobiles and radio sets and fur coats on the installment plan, where 20 or 25 percent cash payments are gratefully accepted.
We have in normal times, through the savings banks, insurance companies, the building and loan associations, and others, provided abundant and mobile finance for 50 percent of the cost of a home through the first mortgage. But the definite problem is not presented by those who can find 50 percent of the cost of a home. Our chief problem in finances relates to those who have an earnest desire for a home, who have a job and therefore possess sound character credit, but whose initial resources run to only 20 or 25 percent. These people would willingly work and apply all their rent and all their savings to gain for themselves this independence and security and social well-being. Such people are a good risk. They are the very basis of stability to the Nation. To find a way to meet their need is one of the problems that you have to consider; that is, how we can make a home available for installment purchase on terms that dignify the name credit and not upon terms and risks comparable to the credit extended by a pawnbroker. Our building and loan and many other associations have made an effort to find a solution for this group, but it is as yet largely unorganized and the question substantially unsolved.
I recently made a public proposal for the creation of a system of home loan discount banks. That proposal is familiar to you, and I will not traverse its details at the present time. It was brought forward partially to meet the situation presented by the present emergency, to alleviate the hardships that exist amongst homeowners today, and to revitalize the building of homes as a factor of economic recovery, but in its long-distance view it was put forward in the confidence that through the creation of an institution of this character we could gradually work out the problem of systematically promoted homeownership on such terms of sound finance as people who have the homeowning aspiration deserve in our country.
And there are many other problems involved in your investigations which bear equal importance to the problem of home financing. The surroundings in which such homes are to be built; the very method of their building; transportation and other facilities which must be provided for them; and the protection that must be given to them from the encroachment of commerce and industry. All of these and many other subjects you will compass. You should be in a position when you complete your work to advise our country of new standards and new ideals for our country.
I wish to express our gratitude, in which I know you will all join, to the hundreds of committee members who have labored so devotedly and capably in preparation for your Conference. I assure you of my appreciation for your coming and my confidence of the high results that will flow from your deliberations.