Housing Upside Down
[In 1947, Arthur W. Binns, president of the National Home and Property Owners Foundation, wrote the following short essay for American Affairs, Vol. 9, No. 1, p. 37.]
Very seldom do the proponents of public housing say frankly that they believe in the socialization of property. They talk of there being a place for public housing. They talk of just a little public housing. There may be those who believe honestly that it is possible to have just a little public housing. It is no more possible to have just a little public housing, than it is possible to have just a little cancer.
He who advocates public housing as a permanent national policy advocates the permanent nationalization of all property. Let us stand on this issue and on this base make our decision.
The question is properly asked, ‘What is the alternative? How may a good house be provided for every American family in the shortest length of time?’
The answer to this question lies in the second, third, fourth, and fifth-hand house.
I believe it to be completely absurd to reverse the whole normal process of distribution by supplying new houses on the lowest level of consuming power.
We could never have achieved the miracles of distribution which have been achieved in this country by this inverted process. Always we have distributed the new article, the most advanced article, to the man who is best able to buy it. By the simple process of depreciation, this new product has then passed from hand to hand until the very poorest man in the whole community had a product many times as good as the one which he originally had, before the first purchaser started the thing off at the top.
It is obvious that only a minute percentage of our whole population can ever have new houses. One only has to consider the fact that a very small percent, perhaps 1 percent or 2 percent, of the total houses in the country can at any one time be new, so that most of us, no matter what our incomes may be, or our standard in the community may be, occupy used houses throughout the majority or all of our lifetimes.
Just for fun, I made a search in my own family not long ago and I find that on neither side of my parents has there been a new house in the family for over three generations.
If we are sincere, therefore, in desiring to provide a good home for every American family, in the shortest possible length of time and if we are not seeking, in disguise, to sell national socialism under the cloak of housing, the thing to do is to pour into the top the greatest number of new houses for those who are in the market for them.
When our builders succeed in providing 100,000 new homes for people who can afford them, for perhaps seven, eight, or ten thousand dollars’ purchase price, they automatically provide 100,000 new homes for people less able to pay — homes, not new in construction, but new to the family who will occupy them.
Housing, you see, is like a taut chain — when you lift the top link, you lift every link in the chain.