Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Dedication of the Austin Oaks Housing Project, Austin, Texas.

December 14, 1968

Chairman Erwin, Congressman Pickle, Congressman Patman, Chancellor Ransom, and distinguished members of the university regents, reverend clergy, ladies and gentlemen:

In 1938, under President Roosevelt's administration, we rolled up our sleeves and pledged our people that we were going to remake America by trying to make available to every family a house that they could own, and what a wonderful goal that was, and what a wonderful achievement it could have been.

We started it here in Austin, Texas--the first housing project under the Slum Clearance Act in 1938. The first allotment was made to Austin, Texas.

We built the project at the lowest cost of any project anywhere in the Nation. The rentals for the inhabitants of those housing projects were the lowest rentals anywhere in the Nation.

We just thought we had really done something big. But I cannot think of any action that I have ever taken in public life--and I have taken a good many that generated opposition--that generated more than that first project.

The City Council voted to create the Housing Authority and I got on the train and started back to Washington very contented. I got to Texarkana and the train stopped. They called me off. It was the mayor, and he said, "You had better get back to Austin. Mr. Gillis has changed his mind, and this vote of three to two is changed to three to two the other way, and we don't have a housing project any more."

So I came back down. I went to Radio Station KNOW and I asked them if they would let me talk to the people of Austin, and they graciously gave me the time.

I talked about O. Henry describing this beautiful city under the violet crown here in Austin. Then I pictured housing conditions two or three blocks from Congress Avenue and two or three blocks from the Driskill Hotel, where a family of eight or ten were living in one room 20' by 25' or 30', and 110 people were drinking out of one hydrant in a central place, all of them using an outdoor toilet in the center of the capital, of the city under the violet crown.

I asked anyone who objected to the housing project, or who didn't understand it, to come to the courthouse and we would explain it.

The next night I went up there and I had to get the sheriff's office and the police department to get me up to the rail. It was running over. We had an overflow crowd. Nearly everyone in town was opposed to it.

Finally, men like Mr. Perry and Colonel Eilers and others came to my rescue and with a strong mayor's leadership, we launched the first project. Since then we have built 34 million homes in America.

We have partially remedied the conditions that existed, but you only have to pick up the morning paper and look at any campus in the country or look at any city in the land or look at any tenant farmer or any poor man's rural home to see that our housing is still totally inadequate.

So, I am so happy that this city on which the Nation cast its spotlight 30 years ago and again today, under the leadership of a very progressive university's regents and administration, with the cooperation of a very progressive city, would attempt to bring to the public attention a project of this kind.

I have signed more than 500 major measures as a Member of Congress and perhaps in a century from now 10 of those measures will be remembered as outstanding. If I were to look back upon the 10 measures that I know have been passed in the 183 years of our Government, I would list the Housing Act of 1968 as one of the 10 most important.

Yet we have never been able to dramatize and to bring to the attention of the people of this country that this act even exists, much less let them know of the benefits that will flow from it. This act provides the machinery and the inducements and the incentives to build, not in the next 30 years, but in the next 10 years, 26 million housing units. That is an average of about 2,600,000 a year. That is the goal.

In 30 years we have built 34 million. So we have been building about 1 million per year. We are almost tripling what we have been doing, and we are going to have to do this if we face up to the problem that confronts America.

I don't want to get into a lot of statistics, but our big problem is this: When a man wants to have a house he goes out and by the time he gets his plans and he gets his lot and he gets his contract and he gets the house built, it is already about three times more than he can pay for, particularly if he is a poor man. So, the poor men just don't get the houses built for them.

We have tried to take the folks whom I have seen living in one room and using outdoor plumbing and outdoor water--a family where all the family, father, mother, six or seven children, and usually their grandpa or grandma were with them, all in one room-where they pay $35, $40, and sometimes $50 a month and provide a small but livable house, most of them have about as much square feet in them as the home that most of you were born in. Some of them have more than the one that I was born in.

I wanted to build these homes at a cost where the individual who is buying it for his family can pay $25 or $30 a month. Now if we can do that by mass production; if we can do that by modernizing our building techniques; if we can do that with proper credit programs such as Congressman Patman has been fighting for all of his life--then we can truly have home ownership for every American family--but we haven't in 30 years.

We started here and we have failed. Because we have failed we have all the restlessness and the disorder in the cities. Because people who cannot eat in a decent place, cannot sleep in a decent place, and cannot grow up in a decent place are just not going to be decent citizens when they get out a lot of times.

I think one of the number one problems in this country is being able to build a home that is within the means of an average family and the poorest families among us. That is what we are trying to do here. Now if we succeed in our objective in the next 10 years, we will build 400 cities the size of Austin. They will not all be houses like this, but this is just to try to reach the very bottom, lowincome group.

When I became President there were a lot of things that I wanted to do. Some of them have been done. Far too many remain to be done. We have not been able to get to them.

I said the other day--and I hope those who heard me will forgive me for repeating-that my goals were simple ones. I wanted a house for every family, and I wanted food for every family. I wanted schools for every family. I wanted health for every family. I wanted those families to be able to have all of those things in an environment that was conducive to producing good citizens.

They are all short four- or five-letter words, and the most important of all of them is peace, p-e-a-c-e, and f-o-o-d, and h-e-a-l-t-h, and h-o-u-s-e, and s-c-h-o-o-l.

Now we have 20 million people above 65 enjoying Medicare. We have 17 million people under 12 or 13 enjoying elementary school aid. We are now trying to build 26 million homes. How well we will do, we will have to see during the next 10 years, but this is the beginning.

The person who has talked to me through the years more about a home that poor people can afford than any other, is lake Pickle. He is going to be there, I hope, the next 10 years to see that what we have here in Austin, we have all over the Tenth District and all over America. And if we could have it all over the world, we would not have to send our men away to fight as we are doing now.

I have talked longer than I wanted to talk. I am thankful to the city council, the State government, the university particularly, and the Congressmen who made this possible.

Do you know under this housing bill we will spend $1 trillion--the lowest estimate is $879 billion--to build homes in the next 10 years? But all of that money can be paid back, with interest, if we can find the formula to build a house that doesn't cost too much, so the average American can afford to pay for it.

I found out 34 years ago that the thing that every woman in this country wants more than anything else, in a material way, is a house that she has title to, or hopes to get title to.

I fought it off for 10 or 15 years--[laughter]--but the time came when I got moved out into our own home, and I have been thankful ever since. It is just such a wonderful thing for us that I just wish that every family in America could have the same pleasures that are ours, and that is what we are working for.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:14 a.m. at the site of the housing project in Austin, Texas. In his opening words he referred to Frank Erwin, Chairman of the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System, Representatives J. J. Pickle and Wright Patman of Texas, and Harry Ransom, Chancellor of the University of Texas System. During his remarks he referred to Simon Gillis, member of the Austin City Council, and to E. H. Perry and Col. A. J. Eilers, Austin business leaders at the time of the inception of the 1938 housing project there.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Dedication of the Austin Oaks Housing Project, Austin, Texas. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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