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Statement on Housing - Excerpts of Remarks of the Vice President of the United States, Forest Hills Inn, Forest Hills, NY

September 28, 1960

We see today the greatest migration in American history. Until 1940, our Nation was becoming urban, but since V-J Day, we have become increasingly suburban. Today our metropolitan suburbs hold almost as many people as all our cities put together: We have 53 million suburbanites and 55 million city dwellers.

Four-fifths of our dramatic postwar population increase has been concentrated in the suburbs, and by 1965, suburban people will outnumber and outvote city dwellers in nearly every State. By 1975, of the 140 million Americans who will then be living in metropolitan areas, at least 80 million will live outside the central cities. What we are seeing, therefore, is urban transformation.

Part of it is a massive redistribution of purchasing power, for increasingly the suburbs absorb the more competitive members of our community: Skilled labor, business and professional men, clerical and service workers. They are homeowners, aware of taxes and living costs, and eager to use consumer credit while they are establishing their homes and founding their careers.

They have helped to underwrite over a million new residential housing starts a year since 1950. They are supporting the purchase of millions of new and used automobiles each year, and they have faith in their future in a free enterprise society.

In their efforts to find more congenial, wholesome surroundings, they are adding a new province to the business economy and a new dimension to our social life.

The problems thus presented are formidable for, in every metropolitan area, there are numerous and mutually exclusive political jurisdictions: States, counties, municipalities, and townships. There is also the growing challenge of urbanized strips that reach almost continuously from Norfolk to Portland, Maine, from New York City to Chicago, and along the Pacific and Texas coastal areas. We can deal with this so-called urban sprawl only by steady support of effective and farsighted zoning powers in States and counties.

The transportation problem is equally complex. The automobile and superhighway have created massive urban traffic and parking problems. Common carrier service, by rail and bus, is costly and difficult, and calls for imaginative integration by public regulatory and taxing agencies

Additionally, land speculation is driving prices to uneconomic levels - in some cases over 3,000 percent in 10 years. There is acute need for schools, hospitals, churches, libraries, parks and recreation facilities, police and fire protection, water, sewage disposal and other utilities. All of these impose a demand for goods and services which can challenge our productive capacity for decades.

Finally, there remains the difficult problem of city housing. I refer to slum clearance, urban renewal, the rehabilitation of private housing, and low-rent and middle-income housing. These are urgently needed by millions of Americans who will continue to live in our central cities.

Obviously we need a general Federal policy to deal with these dynamic developments. As to this, I realize all too well, that some are tempted in matters of this kind to say that this problem is so complicated that we must set up a great new Federal bureaucracy, appropriate billions of dollars, and have the whole thing dictated from Washington. I say that we must avoid this at all costs.

On the one hand, we must block Federal dictation; on the other, we must assure the progress we want and urgently need.

Is there an effective way? There is - one that will retain local control while assuring the Federal leadership that we need.

I propose that we follow these principles to assure sustained growth:

First, America's national housing policy for the 1960's must encompass not only assistance in financing homes and apartments, but also must involve entire communities. It must assure a sound and workable environment in planning for metropolitan areas as a whole. This dictates establishment of a Federal agency to serve as a clearing-house for information and advice on such metropolitan area problems as metropolitan growth renewal and adjustment.

Next, we must recognize that, in zoning and in planning for area development, the State governments are the most practical jurisdictions for dealing with county and local governments.

The area of urban housing and renewal presents us with a clear need for prompt Federal action, guided by this simple principle - that a sound public housing policy should be one that will minimize the need for subsidized housing. There is, for example, little economic sense or social justice in taxing some middle-income families to provide housing for other middle-income families.

The Housing Act of 1949 has worked well to improve the housing shortage we inherited from the depression and World War II. There is now an ample supply of dwelling units and substantial vacancies in all but a few scattered areas. Since 1950, occupied substandard housing has declined at the rate of over 700,000 units a year.

Almost two-thirds of our families own their homes. New planned neighborhoods with fine schools and churches abound in all of our metropolitan areas.

But we still face a crucial problem. Clean air, adequate recreational space, a quick and pleasant journey to work, uncrowded classrooms are all important parts of a high standard of living. All America wants them now.

The situation is urgent. In 4 or 5 years, the population explosion which began in the 1940's and produced the school crisis of the 1950's will bring the housing crisis of the 1960's. We must prepare to meet the impending crisis now, not when it is hard upon us.

The housing experience of the 1950's suggests the soundest policies for the coming years. Our cities can be developed into efficient, beautiful, and livable communities if there is affirmative leadership at the Federal, State and local levels and if there is continued emphasis on methods of stimulating private investment.

I emphasize that Federal leadership does not consist simply of providing more funds. It also involves a keen appreciation of the market consequences of Government intervention. Federal funds must be so channeled as to assure that the private market mechanism will propel rather than retard public efforts.

In keeping with the concepts I have outlined, I propose this seven-point program.

1. We need a market area approach. Our renewal program must, on balance improve the living conditions of families throughout the entire metropolitan area, not solely in the central areas. We must, therefore, develop a long-range comprehensive land-use and transportation plan, and also a workable program, for every metropolitan or urbanized area within which Federal urban renewal funds are expended.

2. We must establish improved criteria for Federal assistance. We know that some renewal projects can pay for themselves through increased tax payments, even without Federal subsidies. For sound projects the total number of redeveloped acres should become much greater. Our goal to this end should be outright Federal grants, with local contributions, giving the local areas greater freedom to plan, innovate, and improvise as they see fit.

3. We must stimulate expenditures for residential renewal and new housing. This must be a major effort, one that will induce both business firms and private households to increase expenditures on housing. In the 1950's we expanded demand by liberal credit. Achieving further expansion for new homes through this device must be further encouraged by the appropriate Federal agencies.

4. We must stabilize construction and the housing economy. As a general proposition, a stabilized construction industry will contribute more to overall economic growth and stability than one which is widely fluctuating. We can achieve a higher and more stable flow of housing credit, with a higher potential for new construction, by injecting some market flexibility into the fixed interest rate on Government insured and guaranteed mortgages. To help solve the problem of high interest rates, the total supply of mortgage funds needs to be expanded by such devices as making mortgage investments more attractive to pension and trust funds and by removing arbitrary limitations on home mortgage transactions by commercial banks.

5. We must review and bring up to date the public housing program. I say this because a number of our citizens will continue living in substandard houses, who neither can improve their own homes nor move into better housing elsewhere. We can improve the present program by providing for single family as well as multiple unit projects and by rental of existing private units by the housing authorities. We also need purchase plans for qualified tenants, rent certificates, and a liberalization of eligibility requirements.

6. We must do a better job of meeting the problem of relocation. Obviously, housing conditions as such are not improved by demolishing occupied substandard housing if, in the process, the total supply of low-cost accommodations is reduced.

7. We must do far better in assuring equal opportunities for minority families. All of us realize that the abandonment of low-quality housing unavoidably involves the problem of race, for racial minorities typically account for a large percentage of the inhabitants of deteriorated sections of urban areas.

As a matter of national policy, we must take special steps to insure that, in their rush for renewal funds, cities do not gloss over the housing problems of nonwhite residents. We must see to it that all non-whites, both those in renewal areas and elsewhere, have the opportunity to obtain good housing in attractive neighborhoods.

Finally, I point out that continued Federal leadership in the solution of urban renewal and housing problems can be effective only if our approach is unified. The new national policy - to maximize private investment through action - must be stated in sufficient detail to provide guidance for individual programs.

The most immediate and effective way to put this policy into effect is to convert the Housing and Home Finance Agency into a fully integrated agency, with operating authority clearly vested in the Administrator, reporting directly to the President.

I am convinced of this: Through the teamwork of Federal leadership, private investment, and State and local responsibility for area development and planning, we can meet the housing crisis of the 1960's - in city and in suburb. We can, and we must, do this - before this deepening crisis exposes millions of our citizens to serious inconvenience, cost, and hardship.

Richard Nixon, Statement on Housing - Excerpts of Remarks of the Vice President of the United States, Forest Hills Inn, Forest Hills, NY Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project