Social housing

From HousingWiki
Karl Marx Hof, Vienna

Social housing is housing owned and/or managed by governments or private organizations for the aim of making it affordable to lower-income residents or otherwise serving some special needs population.

Whereas the term "public housing" generally describes government-owned properties, "social housing" can include a wider range of cases, including the long history of charitable or philanthropic housing for the needy, and various types of development that may be non-profit-owned or partially/indirectly supported by government action. 

Various other terms are used in different places for different types of social housing: for example, in the UK, council housing / council estates are municipal-owned housing, and housing associations are private non-profits; in Germany and Austria, in 20thC, Siedlungen ('settlements') and Gemeindebau ('municipality building'); in Denmark, Almennyttigt Boligbyggeri ('non-profit housing'), etc. 

According to The Dictionary of Urbanism by Robert Cowan (UK, 2005), "social housing" is:

"Housing provided for social purposes (rather than for profit), usually by local authorities, housing associations of housing trusts. In the UK, the term's wide currency dates from the early 1980s. It was coined by the then Conservative government as a more appropriate description than 'council housing', which the government planned effectively to abolish by discounted sales to tenants and transfers to housing associations." 

This article is (so far) focused particularly on the origins and early eras of social housing in the UK and US. Many practices were pioneered in the UK and to some extent in the US, in part because modern social housing was especially prompted by urban industrialized conditions and large cities, and the UK was the first country to heavily industrialize, and London and NYC were by the end of the 19thC the two largest cities in the world.


The portion of housing in different countries that could be called some form of 'social' housing varies widely, and depends on how defined.  The below chart of estimates for "social rented dwellings" as a % of all housing across OECD nations, shows a range from 34% in Netherlands, to < 1% in Latvia. [OECD 2017].

Social rental housing as % of all, across OECD

 United States

To roughly estimate social housing prevalence in the United States, there are various housing types which might be counted:

  • 1) Federally-funded public housing or rent assistance (Public, Sec 8 project, Sec 8 voucher, etc).  In these situations, it is common for tenants to pay up to a maximum percentage of their income (often 30%). => 4.8M homes. [source needed].
  • 2) LIHTC - Low Income Tax Credit funding. Such units have affordability requirements on them for some period of time, as little as 15 years from construction but possibly longer or extended. This means some portion of LIHTC-funded homes have a rental subsidy, in a narrow sense that they are obligated to accept tenants within a certain range of area median income and charge them rents limited as a percentage of that income. => 3M homes created from start of program in 1986 through 2019. [source needed].
  • 3) City/county/state-only funded projects. => ?
  • 4) Inclusionary housing programs create housing regulated to have some level of affordability, for some length of time, by requiring housing developers to included it in projects, or to contribute in-lieu fees which fund such housing elsewhere. According to the Lincoln Institute's 2017 study [Thaden & Wang 2017], US jurisdictions surveyed reported creating a total of 173,707 affordable units; also $1.7 billion in fees, typically used for funding other affordable housing, but that housing was not counted in the survey. Not all jurisdictions replied to the survey, so "due to missing data, these numbers substantially underestimate the total fees and units created."
    • => 200,000 units roughly estimated, with the rough guess that since Inclusionary programs are mostly fairly new, most units created by them are still under affordability requirements.
  • 5) Rent regulation makes rents generally lower than market rate. Mostly in California (especially LA, SF, Oakland, San Jose), NYC, and New Jersey. => 4M homes - very rough guess [need sources. Looked for it but haven't found yet].


=> TOTAL: 5M - 12M homes, or 3.8% - 9.5% of US housing is social / assisted / low-income:

  • 4.8M homes, or 3.8%, counting just public housing and flexible rent assistance, in both of which rent is typically a % of income.
  • 5-8M homes, or 3.9 - 6.3%, counting Inclusionary and LIHTC homes, depending on how many of the 3M tax-credit-financed and Inclusionary homes are still within their affordability requirements, and how much you consider this a form of social / rent-subsidized housing.
  • + 4M homes, so up to 9.5% of US housing, if you count rent-regulated housing.   


"The documented history of social housing in Britain starts with almshouses, which were established from the 10th century, to provide a place of residence for "poor, old and distressed folk". The first recorded almshouse was founded in York by King Æthelstan; the oldest still in existence is the Hospital of St. Cross in Winchester, dating to circa 1133."
-Wikipedia, "Public housing in the United Kingdom."

See also: caravansarai, in central & southern Asia. 

The Fuggerei, Augsburg Germany (1516-)

"The world's oldest social housing complex still in use. It is a walled enclave within the city of Augsburg, Bavaria. It takes its name from the Fugger family and was founded in 1516 by Jakob Fugger the Younger (known as "Jakob Fugger the Rich") as a place where the needy citizens of Augsburg could be housed. By 1523, 52 houses had been built, and in the coming years the area expanded with various streets, small squares and a church. The gates were locked at night, so the Fuggerei was, in its own right, very similar to a small independent medieval town. It is still inhabited today, affording it the status of being the oldest social housing project in the world." [1]. 

Veterans' and sailors' housing, 17thC-

Les Invalides, Paris (1670-)

A significant emblem of publicly-provided housing for the needy, Les Invalides, "formally the Hôtel national des Invalides (The National Residence of the Invalids), or also as Hôtel des Invalides, is a complex of buildings in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, France, containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building's original purpose."

"Louis XIV initiated the project by an order dated 24 November 1670, as a home and hospital for aged and unwell soldiers: the name is a shortened form of hôpital des invalides." -Wikipedia.

Royal Hospital Chelsea (1682-)

Like Les Invalides, the Royal Hospital (aka Greenwich Hospital) is an example of a civic/national monument that includes "public housing". It was created on the site of a former royal palace where many British monarchs including Queen Elizabeth I were born.

"The Royal Hospital Chelsea is a retirement home and nursing home for some 300 veterans of the British Army. Founded as an almshouse, the ancient sense of the word "hospital", it is a 66-acre (27 ha) site located on Royal Hospital Road in Chelsea. It is an independent charity and relies partly upon donations to cover day-to-day running costs to provide care and accommodation for veterans.

Any man or woman who is over the age of 65 and served as a regular soldier may apply to become a Chelsea Pensioner (i.e. a resident)."

"King Charles II founded the Royal Hospital in 1682 as a retreat for veterans. The provision of a hostel rather than the payment of pensions was inspired by Les Invalides in Paris." -Wikipedia. "Royal Hospital Chelsea."

Greenwich Hospital (1694-)

"The Royal Charter of William and Mary dated 25 October 1694 established the Royal Hospital for Seamen (latterly known as Greenwich Hospital). It was a home for retired seamen of the Royal Navy, and to provide support for seamens widows and education for their children, and the improvement of navigation. The first Pensioners arrived at Greenwich in 1705. By the end of the century there were more than 2,000 pensioners living there.

Trinity Almhouses, London, built in 1695. Image from The Survey of London, 1896.
Trinity Almhouses, London, built in 1695. Image from The Survey of London, 1896.

Trinity Green Almshouses (1695)

(formerly Trinity Hospital), were originally built in 1695 to provide housing for retired sailors, by the Corporation of Trinity House, which is the official authority for lighthouses in England & Wales, established 1514. On Mile End Road in Whitechapel, they are the oldest almshouses in Central London.

"They were built by the Corporation of Trinity House [the official authority for lighthouses in England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar, established 1514] to provide housing for "28 decay’d Masters & Commanders of Ships or ye Widows of such"; the land was given to the Corporation by Captain Henry Mudd of Ratcliffe. The almshouses are believed to have been designed by Sir William Ogbourne, and the houses were organised into two rows, with a central green and chapel. The chapel is in the parish of St Dunstan's, Stepney.

"In 1735, Trinity Green had 28 people, at a cost of 12 shillings per resident per month. In 1895–96, Trinity Green was threatened with closure, after Sir Frederic Leighton proposed that the almshouses be destroyed. The closure was prevented due to a public campaign led by Charles Robert Ashbee, who set up a Committee for the Survey of the Memorials of Greater London [still going today, known as the Survey of London, now hosted at University College London, Bartlett School]. The almshouses were the first buildings to be put on his preservation register, which eventually became the listed building system [UK's historic preservation listing system]." -Wikipedia, "Trinity Green Almshouses."

"Prompted by the unwitting demolition of a Tudor hunting lodge in Bromley-By-Bow for a new school, the Arts and Crafts architect, designer and social reformer Charles Robert Ashbee set up a committee for the Survey of Memorials in Greater London in 1894. The first publication was a monograph devoted to Trinity Almshouses on the Mile End Road. It interwove architectural and social history and helped prevent demolition. Ashbee thus initiated a London-wide register of buildings of interest to bring together photographs, measured drawings and historical notes." [Survey of London. "The History of the Survey of London." accessed 17 April, 2020.].

Sailors' Home, London (1835)

Sailors' Home, London, opened 1835
Sailors' Home, London, opened 1835

"The Sailors’ Home, also known at first as the Brunswick Maritime Establishment, was built in 1830–5 with Philip Hardwick as its architect. Enlarged to Dock Street in 1863–5, substantially altered in 1911–12, rebuilt on the Dock Street side in 1954­­–7, adapted to be a hostel for the homeless in 1976–8, and again converted to be a youth hostel in 2012–14, this has been, mutatis mutandis, a major local presence for nearly two centuries, all the while used as a hostel. As the first purpose-built short-stay hostel for sailors anywhere, it represented in its original form the invention of a building type, the Royal Hospital for Seamen in Greenwich notwithstanding. It was to have seminal influence on the development of lodging-house architecture."

Its architect in the 1840s was Henry Roberts, a founder of the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes, who would become a key influence on early social housing in the UK and other countries.

"Between 1879 and 1884 Joseph Conrad (Jozef Korzeniowski) [the author and sailor] stayed several times at the Home and studied in its navigation school. Conrad called the Home a ‘friendly place’, ‘quietly unobtrusively, with a regard for the independence of the men who sought its shelter ashore, and with no ulterior aims behind that effective friendliness.’" [Joseph Conrad, ‘A Friendly Place’, Notes on Life and Letters, 1912, p. 203]." - [Survey of London, 2019].

UK worker housing

18th-19th-century English cities were among the earliest sites of modern industrialization, and industrial slums, and are where many current traditions of social housing and housing regulation begin.

John Boughton (author of Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing, 2018) notes: "Workers' housing, 1776, in Cromford Village, courtesy of Richard Arkwright and up the hill its 20th century democratic equivalent." Tweet Mar 3, 2019

Arkwright worker housing, Cromford Village UK


Arkwright worker housing, Cromford Village UK
 An early landmark was the planned housing and facilities in mill town New Lanark, Scotland, which industrialist and reformer Robert Owen developed from around 1800-1825 as a model workers town. It became well-known throughout Europe was visited by many reformers and writers.  

Saltaire in 1853.

Bournville (1879).

Port Sunlight in 1888.

Exposés, social novels, reform movement

The slum city in literature and reports

By the 1830s in the UK, there was widespread public concern about unsanitary or inhumane conditions in working-class housing, and the relative possibility of violent mass uprising such as growing out of the Chartist movement. Thanks to extensive journalistic, sociological, and literary interest in these 19thC UK slum conditions, we have an extensive and diverse written record of the conditions there and how responses to them helped produce reformist movements, private social housing and model tenements, and early public housing. 

The factories and slums of Manchester were a particular focus for visitors and writers interested in industrialization, from around the UK and the world, starting in the early 19th C. Reports such as Kay's The moral and physical condition of the working classes employed in the cotton manufacture in Manchester (1832) and Engels' The Condition of the Working Class in England (1844). described shocking squalor in housing conditions, noting that much of was in relatively new housing, since population growth had been so rapid and recent there.

The publication of the Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain (1842), authored by Edwin Chadwick, was highly influential in fostering the new attitude toward poverty and the urban environment. It also inspired a similar, and similarly influential work in the US, Dr. John H. GriscomThe Sanitary Condition of the Laboring Population of New York in (1845). Griscom's work was the first to use the term "How the other half lives", which Jacob Riis would employ fifty years later for the title of his best-selling exposé of the slums [noted in Hoffman 1998].

Also in the late 1840s, Henry Mayhew observed, documented, and described the state of working people in London for a series of articles in the Morning Chronicle, that were later compiled into book form as London Labour and the London Poor (1851).  Mayhew coined a famous expression of the idea of distinguishing between deserving and non-deserving poor:  "those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work."

Elizabeth Gaskell, of Manchester, became famous for writing the best-selling Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life (1848), set among mill workers in Manchester between1839 and 1842.

Charles Dickens was strongly interested in housing condititions of the London poor, and publicly campaigned with speeches and articles on it, as well as treating of it in widely and internationally popular novels, and publishing related work by other authors such as Gaskell. Carter [2007] observes:

"Charles Dickens showed great concern for the despicable conditions of London slums and campaigned for their improvement. His hatred of slums and the governmental practices that allowed them to exist is especially apparent around the time he began conceiving and writing Bleak House (published in installments from March 1852 through September 1853). In the new preface to Martin Chuzzlewit of November 1849, he upholds literature's utility in social activism: "In all my writings, I hope I have taken every available opportunity to showing the want of sanitary improvements in the neglected dwellings of the poor" (qtd. in Butt, p. 11). He published several articles on the subject, such as "Health by Act of Parliament, "A Home Question," and "Commission and Omission," in 1850 editions of Household Words. Again in 1850, he made a speech to The Metropolitan Sanitary Association condemning slum landlords and local politicians and, in 1852, he advised philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts on the model flats she was financing for London's Columbia Square (Blount 341). In Bleak House, the theme of sanitation, or the lack thereof, surfaces prominently in Dickens's treatment of the brick-maker's house and Tom-all-Alone's. Dickens actually used "Tom-All-Alone's" as a working title for Bleak House, further demonstrating slums' importance for the novel.

Model dwelling companies, 1842-

Bagnippe Wells model housing, first project of the SICLC, 1844

This ferment of reformist interest in the 1840s led to the formation of various reform societies, and projects such as model housing developments.

In 1842 the Metropolitan Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrial Poor was founded in England. (noted in [Mumford 1938], p.177).

In 1844 the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes was formed, growing out of The Labourer’s Friend Society.  S.I.C.L.C. worked to impove and reform both rural housing and urban housing for industrial workers. It was a private, dividend-paying society accepting investments, but on which the annual dividend was limited by its charter.  Various other so-called "model dwelling companies" arose at that time, building housing in cities throughout the UK but particularly in London. Their model of combining philanthropic intention with capitalist return was given the label "five per cent philanthropy". The model dwelling societies received patronage from industrialist and aristocratic patrons, notably Queen Victoria's support for the S.I.C.L.C. 

Bagnippe Wells model housing, 1844

"The prototype for such blocks was the Sailors’ Home (see section above) in Well Street, Whitechapel (now demolished), opened in 1835 and designed by Henry Roberts (1803-76) the architect who set the pattern for philanthropic housing schemes in London, and influenced developments in Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Russia.

"In 1844 Roberts was a founder member of the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes, for whom he designed a landmark project of the model-dwelling company movement, the Bagnippe Wells estate (see image right), built in 1844 in Lower Road, Pentonville, Southwark, London. “This scheme was the first attempt in the metropolis to provide the working class with some kind of new and appropriate housing, specially designed for the purpose, and it was the first time that an architect had lent his skill to such a humble work.” - [Tarn 1973]. 

Roberts also designed a model lodging house off Drury Lane in 1846, but both this and Bagnippe Wells have been demolished.

1848 World's Fair - Model Houses for Families

"Roberts went on to design the Model Houses shown at the Great Exhibition of the1848 World’s Fair, hosted in London. Prince Albert sponsored the “Model Houses for Families,” a model tenement which was subsequently built in Bloomsbury, England. Each apartment was cross ventilated -- all rooms had windows that faced either the street of the generously sized courtyard and the staircases were moved to the exterior of the construction, eliminating any dark hallways."

See image of this in [Mumford, The Culture of Cities,1938] p.212. 

"The Model Houses for Families are now re-erected in Kennington Park Road."

The design was further developed on by Sir Sydney Waterlow and his Improved Dwellings Company for their Langbourn Building in London in 1863. [Flandro et al, 2008]. This had 80 dwellings. Sir Sydney Waterlow subsequently led building of the Corporation Houses on Farringdon road, completed 1865 (see below).

Parnell House (1850, SICLC)

"[Henry Roberts'] next project for the Society, was Parnell House, group of dwellings for 48 families in three blocks built around a courtyard in Streatham Street, near the British Museum, which remains in use as housing. Access to the apartments is by wrought-iron balconies, they are of fireproof construction, and each, at the time of construction, had its own water closet, a revolutionary feature for working class dwellings in England."

"Parnell House was built in 1850 by the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes (SICLC). The land, owned by the Duke of Bedford, was leased for 99 years. In 1965 Peabody took over the former SICLC and all of its remaining London properties. Parnell had played an important role for Peabody long before that: Peabody’s 1964 Annual Report described the development ‘a shining example of good design’ from the 1850s and stated that ‘it was visited by Mr Peabody and may well have influenced him in the manner of his gift to the London poor’.

"Peabody purchased the freehold of the property from Holiday Inns UK in 1994. A Grade II Listed Building, a picture of Parnell’s exterior features on the dust jacket of the 1983 biography of its architect, Henry Roberts."

Investment vs philanthropy: The Metropolitan Association vs the SICLC

Metropolitan Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrial Poor.

In 1844 the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes

 see discussion by Henry Roberts

Peabody Trust philanthropic housing (1863-)

"The Trust was founded in 1862 by London-based American banker George Peabody, who in the 1850s had developed a great affection for London, and determined to make a charitable gift to benefit it. The aim of the organisation, he said, would be to "ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy of this great metropolis, and to promote their comfort and happiness".

"The Peabody Trust was later constituted by Act of Parliament, stipulating its objectives to work solely within London for the relief of poverty. This was to be expressed through the provision of model dwellings for the capital's poor.

"Today it is one of London's oldest and largest housing associations with around 55,000 properties across London and the South East. It is also a community benefit society and urban regeneration agency, a developer with a focus on regeneration, and a provider of an extensive range of community programmes." -Wikipedia, "Peabody Trust".

Peabody building on Commercial Street (completed 1864)

1st Peabody Trust building, Commercial Street, London, completed 1864
1st Peabody Trust building, Commercial Street, London, completed 1864

1st Peabody Trust building, Commercial Street, London, completed 1864
1st Peabody Trust building, Commercial Street, London, completed 1864
1st Peabody Trust building, Commercial Street, London, completed 1864
1st Peabody Trust building, Commercial Street, London, completed 1864

Peabody Square, Islington (1865)

City of London Corporation Houses on Farringdon Road (1865)

"In some respects an archetypal Victorian improvement, Farringdon Road was nevertheless the final stage in a piece of town planning begun in the mid-eighteenth century, while in general terms it had been conceived of even earlier. A road through the Fleet valley linking the City with western Clerkenwell was part of Wren's thinking for his projected reconstruction of London after the Great Fire."

"For years, Farringdon Road was characterized by the wasteland of cleared sites and shored-up houses through which it passed. Building development, mostly for manufacturing and warehousing, but with some block dwellings, terrace-houses and pubs, did not begin until the mid-1860s."

"It was not for a decade after clearance began that the subject of social housing provision seems to have been considered at all. A clause in the 1851 Clerkenwell Improvement Act (which transferred control of the entire improvement scheme to the City) authorized the City Corporation to build dwellings for the poor, either on the cleared land or sites bought elsewhere for the purpose. There was, however, no obligation placed on it to do so.

"In the mid- 1850s the Corporation did begin to stir itself to action. Model dwellings in London were investigated, funds allocated, a site on the west side of Turnmill Street was acquired and cleared, and plans were prepared by the City Architect....Doubts as to the financial viability of the scheme, prompted by the disappointing returns so far obtained by the Metropolitan Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from their property, caused the scheme to be abruptly dropped."

"When the subject was revived in 1863 the agenda was different. Thanks to the efforts of the philanthropist (Sir) Sydney Waterlow, a Common Councilman and later Alderman, the Corporation had been persuaded to consider housing from a moral rather than business standpoint. Building homes for the poor might lose money, but it would do something to offset the problems brought about by large-scale improvement schemes. Waterlow had recently built, at his own expense, a remunerative block of model dwellings in Mark Street, Finsbury (Langbourne Buildings), and in 1863 founded the Improved Industrial Dwellings Co. to carry out further developments. He argued convincingly that the Corporation should assist those whose homes had been destroyed.

"The result was Corporation Buildings, erected in the mid-1860s. Farringdon Road Buildings, erected by the Metropolitan Association, followed in the 1870s, nearly opposite the earlier blocks. Two other large groups of model dwellings with frontages to Farringdon Road were built later on, in the early 1880s. The Peabody Trust (which had attempted to obtain a site in Farringdon Road in 1863) built on the large Pear Tree Court site between Clerkenwell Close and Farringdon Lane. The other development (mostly outside Clerkenwell in the Liberty of Saffron Hill) was Victoria Dwellings in Clerkenwell Road, one block of which fronted Farringdon Road at No. 97.

Corporation Buildings (demolished)

"The City's model dwellings, Corporation Buildings, were not only a pioneering venture for the Corporation itself, but the first 'council housing' to be provided in England. They were built in 1864–5, and the site—the corner on the north side of Ray Street, now occupied by the offices of the Guardian (see page 383)—was the first to be developed along the new Farringdon Road.

"Plans for the buildings were drawn up in 1863–4 by Alfred Allen, chief clerk in the City Architect's department, who had taken over most of the running of the office on account of the illness and resignation of J. B. Bunning. (fn. 111) His façades, designed 'with strict regard to economy', were modified at a late stage by Bunning's successor, Horace Jones, who realized that a slightly more ornamental building would help attract developers to Farringdon Road, and 'ultimately prove the truest economy'. (fn. 112) The scheme incorporated a row of shops along the main front and warehouse space in the basements: these features were seen by Allen as of some importance, helping to harmonize the blocks with the intended largely commercial character of the road, as well as providing a financial return...Many dwellings were occupied before the whole development was finished.

"Jones's modifications apart, in general appearance, as in planning, Corporation Buildings were very similar to the Mark Street dwellings erected by Sydney Waterlow. These had been designed by another Worship Street builder, Matthew Allen, but derived from the type devised for Prince Albert by Henry Roberts, which had formed part of the Great Exhibition."

-- from Survey of London (2008). "Farringdon Road." Survey of London: Volume 46, South and East Clerkenwell. Ed. Philip Temple. London: London County Council, 2008. 358-384. British History Online. Web. 17 May 2020. 


Artisans' and Labourers' Dwellings Improvement Act 1875 [UK]

St Martin's Cottages, Liverpool Council / Corporation (1869)

"The City of London Corporation built tenements in Farringdon Road in 1865, but this was an isolated instance. The first council to build housing as an integrated policy was Liverpool Corporation, starting with St Martin's Cottages in Ashfield Street, Vauxhall, completed in 1869. The Corporation then built Victoria Square Dwellings, opened by Home Secretary Sir Richard Cross in 1885." -Wikipedia.

"The [1846] Liverpool Sanitary Act – ‘the first piece of comprehensive health legislation passed in England’ – made the Council responsible for drainage, paving, sewerage and cleaning. It also appointed a Council Medical Officer of Health – another first." It was strengthened by a further Act in 1864." [Stoughton 2013 - "Municipal Housing in Liverpool before 1914: the ‘first council houses in Europe’". Municipal Dreams blog, 8 Oct 2013.].

St Martin’s Cottages, completed 1869 in Ashfield Street, Vauxhall, Liverpool.
St Martin’s Cottages, completed 1869 in Ashfield Street, Vauxhall, Liverpool.

"The St Martin’s Cottages, completed in 1869 in Ashfield Street, Vauxhall [were] the first council housing to be built in England.  The ‘cottages’ were tenements – 146 flats and maisonettes in two four-storey blocks, brick-built with open staircases and separate WCs placed on the half-landings.  The result was so bleak that even the trade magazine The Builder concluded that those who built for the poor should ‘mix a little philanthropy with their per-centage calculations’." [Stoughton 2013].

The cottages are discussed by Colin Pooley of Lancaster in "Living in Liverpool", an essay in J. Belchem (Ed.), Liverpool 800 : Character, Culture, History : Culture, Character and History (Liverpool University Press, 2006), here noted by a commenter at Streets of Liverpool:

"St Martin's Cottages comprised six blocks of three-and five-story tenements that provided 124 dwellings. He doesn?t say how many blocks of each type there were. I assume the extra storey he mentions was the cellars shown sealed off in the 1973 view.

Professor Pooley makes some interesting points about the extent to which St Martin's Cottages failed to fulfil the Council's target of 'providing housing for the poorest poor'. He shows that the rents were too expensive for most displaced by the slum clearance scheme and he backs this up with an analysis of the 1871 census that indicates a clear bias to the upper end of the working class spectrum. He concludes that council housing before 1918 accounted for only 6.5% of all new building in Liverpool and rarely provided homes for those most in need."

St Martin's Cottages, completed 1869 in Vauxhall, Liverpool. 1954 photograph.
St Martin's Cottages, completed 1869 in Vauxhall, Liverpool. 1954 photograph.

[Dockerill 2016]: "Liverpool Corporation and the origins of municipal social housing, 1842–1890." Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 165, 39–56:

"The Liverpool Sanitary Amendment Act 1864 ‘effected an enormous increase in the powers of the Corporation at the time unparalleled’ in England,33 ‘confer[ring] upon the Corporation completely new powers to repair or demolish houses which it considered … to be unfit for human habitation’,34 and prohibiting the construction of back-to-back houses within the town. The 1864 Act also sounded the effective death knell of court building."

"Faced with chronic pauperism, an increasing death rate, and a depleting stock of affordable working-class housing, the Corporation agreed the purchase of ‘five pieces of land belonging to Alderman Houghton in the vicinity of St Martin’s Church, with a view to secure the erection thereon of Labourers’ Dwellings’ on 9 May 1866.'"

"However, this action should not be interpreted as evidence of a municipal desire to become a tenant landlord for the town’s poorest. Councillor Robinson, the seconder of the resolution, assured Council members that there was ‘no idea of suggesting that the Corporation should undertake the erection of the dwellings themselves’. Rather, it was motivated by a shrewd understanding of realpolitik based upon three core contentions. First, there was a civic and humanitarian desire to address the death rate; as Councillor J.R. Jeffrey proclaimed, councillors ‘could no longer stand still and see their fellow creatures die around them without … making the experiment and seeing whether the course … suggested would succeed’. Second, and typical of the competitive spirit of the Victorian period, councillors worried whether a failure to motivate the private sector to build working-class housing would result in Liverpool falling behind urban rivals such as Glasgow, London, and Leeds. Finally, in motivating the working class to strive for better accommodation, the Corporation hoped that increased business opportunities would ultimately arise for private builders." [Dockerill 2016].

St Martin's Cottages, completed 1869 in Vauxhall, Liverpool. 1973 photograph.
St Martin's Cottages, completed 1869 in Vauxhall, Liverpool. 1973 photograph.

"Those engaged as casual labourers were effectively barred from tenancy. Therefore, although the Corporation had provided the country’s first purpose-built municipal houses for the working classes, such was the limited scope of both their construction and the sum of rent charged that The Porcupine declared that the cottages ‘had failed … in any form or degree [to] accomplish any practical solution of the great question of how best to house the poor’.

"Only when there was either a change in the political willingness to offer rent subsidies to the very poorest and to sanction greater municipal and/or national intervention in housing issues (including rent), or a willingness on the part of the poor themselves to take control of their own ‘sanitary, social, and moral elevation’, would substantial progress would be made. [italics added -tm].

"The 1871 Report of Drs Parkes and Sanderson on the Sanitary Condition of Liverpool noted, however, that the former course of action was politically impossible, for it would mean that the Corporation ‘would be simply offering a premium to pauperism’, while with regard to the latter, progress seemed unlikely. As Trench lamented, without education to the contrary the poorest saw no ‘necessity of taking decent houses’, with many instead choosing to squat rather than pay rent and, in fact, systematically destroying the property in which they were living. This was a class of potential tenant that the Corporation was not prepared to accept.

"Though St Martin’s Cottages were the nation’s first municipally-built houses for the working class, not only were they an experiment—a model for private builders to emulate—but the provisions of the Liverpool Sanitary Amendment Act 1864 under which they were constructed were not intended to enable the authority to purchase swathes of insanitary houses in order to create building plots of a suitable size to undertake rebuilding. Neither did it place any requirement upon the Corporation to rehouse those whom it displaced." [Dockerill 2016]

Farringdon Road Buildings, London (1875), by Metropolitan Association

Farringdon Road Buildings, built by Metropolitan Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrial Poor in mid-1870s opposite Corporation Buildings.

(an image of it was included in Mumford, The Culture of Cities,1938, p.212..  

described in Gissing, George. The Nether World (1889).

Victoria Square Dwellings, Liverpool Council (1885)

"The Insanitary Property Committee, established in 1883, gave teeth to the 1864 Act and cleared a notorious area of slum housing in Nash Grove but what to do with those displaced?  The Council still hoped that private enterprise might step up to the challenge but speculative building profits lay in the suburbs.  Once more, the Council undertook to build itself on a plan devised by then City Engineer, Clement Dunscombe." This produced the Victoria Square Dwellings, completed in 1885." [Stoughton 2013].

"their construction was accompanied by a specific policy acknowledgement by the council that it had a duty of care with regards to the housing conditions of those displaced through slum clearance programmes."

Dockerill, Bertie (2015). "From St Martin's Cottages to Juvenal Dwellings: Liverpool's pioneering role in the provision of public housing." Liverpool History Journal 14 (2015).


Boundary Estate, London Council (completed 1900)

"The world’s first large-scale [public] housing project was also built in London, to replace one of the capital’s most notorious slums – the Old Nichol. Nearly 6,000 individuals were crammed into the packed streets, where one child in four died before his or her first birthday. Arthur Morrison wrote the influential A Child of the Jago, an account of the life of a child in the slum, which sparked a public outcry.

"Redevelopment had been resisted by members of the Bethnall Green vestry (parish) who owned much of the rookery, and were responsible for electing members of the Metropolitan Board of Works. The powers the vestries and board were limited to the Torrens Act and the Cross Act which the Bethnall Green vestry refused to use.

"It was in 1885, after the report of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes, 1884-5, that the national government first took an interest. This led to the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1885, which empowered Local Government Boards to shut down unhealthy properties and encouraged them to improve the housing in their areas.

"London County Council was created by the Local Government (England and Wales) Act 1888, some 53 years after other major cities had been municipalised. It took responsibility for the housing of the working classes from the Metropolitan Board of Works.  In the first election, the progressives obtained a large majority. The Housing Committee secured from Parliament the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1890, which gave it powers to implement the Torrens and Cross acts, and gave legal basis for it to manage housing estates. LCC chose Boundary Street as their flagship scheme. Initially they attempted to get the private sector involved but failed. In 1893, on the back of the 1892 Blackwall Tunnel Act they gained permission from the Home Secretary, to rebuild a small section of the scheme."

Boundary Estate, London, 1890-1900

"Construction of the Boundary Estate was begun in 1890 by the Metropolitan Board of Works and completed by the recently formed London County Council in 1900.

"Whilst the new flats replaced the existing slums, with decent accommodation for the same number of people, it wasn't the same group of people. The original inhabitants were forced further to the East, creating new overcrowding and new slums in areas such as Dalston and Bethnal Green. At this time, no help was available to find new accommodation for the displaced, and this added to the suffering and misery of many of the former residents of the slum. The new blocks had policies to enforce sobriety and the new tenants were clerks, policemen, cigarmakers and nurses."
-Wikipedia. "Boundary Estate." 

From A Child of the Jago (1896)

"Even the gradual removal of the Old Jago itself was begun. For the County Council bought a row of houses at the end of Jago Row, by Honey Lane, with a design to build big barrack dwellings on the site. The scenes of the Jago Court eviction were repeated, with less governed antics. For the County Council knew not Jago ways; and when deputations came forth weeping, protesting the impossibility of finding new lodgings, and beseeching a respite, they were given six weeks more, and went back delighted into free quarters. At the end of the six weeks a larger deputation protested a little louder, wept a great deal more, and poached another month; for it would seem an unpopular thing to turn the people into the street. Thus, in the end, when the unpopular thing had to be done, it was with sevenfold trouble, loud cursing of the County Council in the public street, and many fights. But this one spot of the Jago cleared, the County Council began to creep along Jago Row and into Half Jago street; and after long delay the crude yellow brick of the barrack dwellings rose above the oft-stolen hoardings, and grew, storey by storey." "The dispossessed Jagos had gone to infect the neighbourhoods across the border, and to crowd the people a little closer. They did not return to live in the new barrack-buildings; which was a strange thing, for the County Council was charging very little more than double the rents which the landlords of the old Jago had charged. And so another Jago, teeming and villainous as the one displaced, was slowly growing in the form of a ring, round about the great yellow houses."


On 19thC London private social housing, some sources noted in: 
Gill, Stephen. "Notes" to Oxford University Press edition of The Nether World by George Gissing. 1992:

alt text




More information: an Interesting short history of over a century of social housing, from the House of Commons Library:


Housing reform and Model Tenements in the US

US housing reform and social housing has somewhat paralleled that in the UK, particularly in the 19thC with studies on and responses to slum conditions in New York City, the development of philanthropic housing, and tenement reform regulations. Public housing, however, came much later and to a much smaller part of the population: briefly as wartime worker housing in WWI, and then widely starting in mid-1930s, with new construction largely ending by the early 1980s and total units capped by law. As with the UK's shift in new construction from council housing largely to private "housing associations" and market housing in the 1980s, and also later to Housing Benefit subsidy, the US shifted largely to supporting private development with Low Income Tax Credits, and individuals with housing vouchers.

A definitive study of US housing reform movement, focusing particularly on New York City, is James Ford. Slums and Housing - With Special Reference to New York City - History, Conditions, Policy.  Harvard University Press, 1936. [Ford 1936]. 

Summarized and extended by helpful paper: 
Hoffman, Alexander von. "The Origins of American Housing Reform." Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies, publication W98-2, August 1998.  

Workingman's Home, NYC, 1855

Workingman's Home, NYC, 1855

"The first truly 'philanthropic' housing in New York was the Workingman's Home built in 1855 by the New York Association for Improving the Conditions of the Poor. The AICP, founded in 1845...promoted private philanthropy in housing. In 1847 plans of a model block of buildings were drawn up and circulated to builders. 

"The Workingman's Home was designed by prominent architect John W. Ritch for a narrow parcel between Mott and Elizabeth streeets, north of Canal Street...The galleries were constructed of iron beams with brick arches spanning between, a fireproof construction that had only recently been developed for industrial buildings; probably this was the first residential application.  The project is alleged to be the first tenement which provided each tenant with water and water closet

"In exchange for these superior amenities, the tenants had to abide by  a strict moral and hygienic code that was enforced by the superintendent in charge. Tenant was limited to blacks. 

"After twelve years the Workingman's Home was sold to a private investor, and it became known as the Big Flat." [Plunz 2016].

For an interesting depiction of tenement/boarding-house life around the time of Workingman's Home's creation, see Walt Whitman, "Wicked Architecture" (Life Illustrated, July 19,1856) - mainly about dwelling-houses. 
Part II from a series, "New York Dissected".  It's on Image 5 of the scanned pages. [Whitman 1856].

NYC Council of Hygiene's Tenement Survey & model plans

"With the United States government hesitant to intervene in housing problems (the government saw this as an invasion on private property rights), civic groups, architects and philanthropists began to look for possible solutions to the housing conditions in New York in foreign projects, particularly in Britain and France. 

"In the 1860s were established the New York City Council of Hygiene, a Citizens Association, and the Department of Survey and Inspection of Buildings. A survey of the 15,309 tenement buildings in New York City was completed by the Council of Hygiene and was published in 1865. This study also included the plans for the plans for Waterlow's 1863 Improved Dwellings Company buildings, the first Englist model tenement English plans published in the U.S.  [American] architects that subsequently traveled and investigated these model houses included James E. Ware, Henry Atterbury Smith, Grosvenor Atterbury, Ernest Flagg, and I.N. Phelps-Stokes; and philanthropists Alfred Tredway White, Olivia Sage (Mrs. Russell Sage), Caroline and Olivia Phelps-Stokes and Ann Harriman Vanderbilt. Once back in the United States they used not only the design ideas gathered from the model houses but also the financing scheme. The first successful model tenements to be erected in New York City were the Home Building and the Tower Building in Brooklyn. Financed by Alfred Treadway-Wright and designed by William Field and Son they were completed in 1877."   [Flandro et al, 2008] 

Tower Buildings, Brooklyn

Tower Buildings model worker housing, Brooklyn, 1879

This 1879 building in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn was built by Alfred Tredway White, "who was born into wealth and who was asked by his Unitarian pastor to investigate the housing of the poor" [Gray 2008]. They are considered the first US "model tenement." 

"Mr. White said the Tower enterprise returned 6 percent on his investment, and in 1880 The New York Times reported the Tower Buildings had demonstrated to commercial builders that model tenements could be made to pay." [Gray 2008].

See Gray (2008), "Architectural Wealth, Built for the Poor."  New York Times. 10 Oct, 2008.

Note: HousingWiki editor Tim McCormick lived for seven years near the Tower Buildings.

2 Warren Place (Warren Mews) worker housing, Brooklyn, 1870s

Alfred Tredway White also built nearby Warren Mews (2 Warren Place, 1877).. See [Hogarty 2012]. 


 See also:

White, Alfred Tredway.  Improved Dwellings for the Working Classes: The need, and the way to meet it on strict commercial pinciples. (1877, revised 1879). At Internet Archive: ____. Better Homes for Workingmen (1885).

____. Riverside Buildings (1890). all of above available at Internet

United States public housing

USHC worker housing at Mare Island, Vallejo, California. 1915 plan

World War 1 worker housing

Ben-Joseph, Eran. "Workers' Paradise: The Forgotten Communities of World War I."  Online research project, MIT School of Architecture+ Planning.

"In 1917 the United States Government embarked upon an unprecedented experiment- the planning and construction of neighborhoods and housing for American workers and their families. Within a period of two years over 83 new housing projects in 26 States were designed, planned and had commenced construction. The achievements of this effort are staggering. Within few years 5,033 acres were developed into housing for over 170,000 people. Almost 30,000 families lived in 9,543 single and 3,996 semi-detached homes while 5,000 apartments housed single workers. Eighteen schools, 8 hospitals, 17 churches and 8 theaters provided social and cultural services. Over 649,505 liner feet of state of the art sewer and water infrastructure insured an unprecedented level of hygiene and health.

"After the United States declared war on Germany in April, 1917 a federal agency was created to build housing for workers near war-related industries and shipyards. The United States Housing Corporation (USHC), was formed for this purpose. This agency designed and planned over 80 new housing projects within a period of two years. Although some were small and consisted of a few dozen dwellings, others were larger and approached the dimensions of new towns. For example, Cradock in Norfolk Virginia was designed on a 310 acre site with over 800 detached houses. Mare Island, in San Francisco Bay had 231 detached and 200 semidetached houses, schools, community centers and stores on a 52-acre site.

"These housing projects far exceeded in design and planning any immediate needs brought on by the housing shortage. The architects, planners, and engineers involved were equally as interested in developing housing as in developing ideas that heretofore had been only subjects of theoretical debate. These ideas developed into concrete proposals about town planning, housing, and social construction, as well as decentralization of the industrial city, promotion of regionalism, infusion of nature into everyday life, and enriching of culture though the improvement of habitat conditions of the working class. Ultimately it was the success of these projects that inspired many American designers to examine new ideas about town planning, housing standards, and the government's involvement in housing well after the war was over.

typical house plan, UHSC Mare Island

"USHC not only planned and built new communities, but it also published booklets on design principles and standards for neighborhood planning. Presumably this is the first time an agency of the Federal Government reviewed and adopted standards and norms for development. These guidelines and standards became the most comprehensive manual on town planning and housing standards in existence in the United States at that time. It covered a broad range of topics from large scale site planning down to the design of individual houses and street lamps. Clearly these documents and built projects provided a prescription for an ideal model of community planning and mass housing.

This Agency is also important because it employed many of the first city planners and landscape architects who later became the leading town planners throughout the country. Renowned individuals such as Henry Wright, Clarence Stein and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. were among the 120 professionals employed by USHC. This unique group of reformers, who had successfully won recognition for their profession, was posed at the end of the war to establish the country’s leading urban planning institutions. In 1923, for example, many of the architects and planners who had worked for USHC during the war formed the Regional Plan Association of America (RPAA), which was responsible for both the spread of the Garden City Movement and the building of model developments across the country."


Milwaukie's Garden Homes development,1923

The City of Milwaukee, under socialist mayor Daniel Hoan, implemented the country's first public housing project, known as Garden Homes, in 1923. This experiment with a municipally-sponsored housing cooperative saw initial success, but was plagued by development and land acquisition problems, and the board overseeing the project dissolved the Gardens Home Corporation just two years after construction on the homes was completed.

"The Gardens Homes housing project had its start during the 1910 election campaign of Milwaukee's first socialist mayor, Emil Seidel, who ran on a platform that included construction of low cost, city-built, homes for workers. Though Seidel was soundly defeated in 1912, the city's second socialist mayor, Daniel Hoan, was able to get a project started to ease Milwaukee's housing shortage. The shortage, caused by the rapid growth of Milwaukee's manufacturing sector, was worsened by the World War I-era moratorium on new housing construction. Because the city's housing shortage had started before World War I, and it could not prove the lack of housing was delaying the production of war materials, it was unable to obtain federal aid.

"Instead, after the war, Milwaukee's housing commission proposed a cooperative housing project. It was funded in two ways. The initial cost was to be financed by the sale of preferred stock in the Garden Homes Project, sold to city and county governments, and also made available to any other investor. The preferred stock was expected to pay a 5 percent dividend per year. The occupants of the housing would purchase common stock in the project, equal to the value of the home. They would put 10 percent down, and make payments over the next 20 years, including interest, taxes, upkeep, and other costs. After about 20 years, the preferred stock would mature and be retired, and the tenants would then own the corporation. At that time, the common shareholders could elect to convert the project to individual ownership.

"This concept was based on a similar plan in England, promoted by Ebenezer Howard's garden city concept from the Garden Cities of Tomorrow published in 1900. About 60 housing associations had been established there by 1919. Several streets in Garden Homes would initially be named after garden cities in England, including Ealing, Hampstead, Port Sunlight, Bourneville, and Letchworth."

"Shortly after construction problems involving the annexation of the Garden Homes project by the city ensued...Tenants were also unsure about the value of private improvements to their units if the plan was not eventually converted to individual ownership."

"By June 1925, state lawmakers had voted to permit the sale, rather than lease, of the project houses. Soon thereafter, the Garden Homes project board of directors disbanded the cooperative, allowing the tenants to purchase their units." 

Today the area is Garden Homes Historic District, containing all of the 93 original buildings, comprising 105 housing units.

Senator Paul Douglas' call for Vienna-style public housing, 1932

Illinois Senator Paul Douglas published "The Coming of a New Party" in 1932 [Douglas 1932], calling for a US equivalent to the UK Labour Party. Among other topics, he also proposed mixed-income public housing, adapted from the Vienna model, paid for with rents, land value tax, and Federal subsidies. 

New York City Housing Authority - First Houses, 1935

First Houses take their name from their distinction of being the first public housing units constructed in the United States, opening for the first tenants on December 3, 1935. Victorian-era tenements existed on the site before they were cleared to build the project, which was also the very first project undertaken by the city's new Housing Authority. The units opened in December 1935.

[note: HousingWiki editor Tim McCormick lived for 5 years a few blocks from First Houses, and occasionally visited friends who lived there.]


Federal Public Works Administration (PWA), 1933-

"Permanent, federally funded housing came into being in the United States as a part of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Title II, Section 202 of the National Industrial Recovery Act, passed June 16, 1933, directed the Public Works Administration (PWA) to develop a program for the "construction, reconstruction, alteration, or repair under public regulation or control of low-cost housing and slum clearance projects...". Led by the Housing Division of the PWA and headed by architect Robert Kohn, the initial, Limited-Dividend Program aimed to provide low-interest loans to public or private groups to fund the construction of low-income housing."

"Too few qualified applicants stepped forward, and the Limited-Dividend Program funded only seven housing projects nationally. In the spring of 1934, PWA Administrator Harold Ickes directed the Housing Division to undertake the direct construction of public housing, a decisive step that would serve as a precedent for the 1937 Wagner-Steagall Housing Act, and the permanent public housing program in the United States. Kohn stepped down during the reorganization, and between 1934 and 1937 the Housing Division, now headed by Colonel Horatio B. Hackett, constructed fifty-two housing projects across the United States, as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Atlanta's Techwood Homes opened on 1 September 1936 and was the first of the fifty-two opened."


1960s private-sector subsidized housing programs

from:  Congressional Research Service. "Overview of Federal Housing Assistance Programs and Policy." July 22, 2008 – March 27, 2019. 

"The Housing Act of 1959 (P.L. 86-372) was the first significant instance where government incentives were used to persuade private developers to build housing that would be affordable to low- and moderate-income households. As part of P.L. 86-372, Congress created the Section 202 Housing for the Elderly program. Through the Section 202 program, the federal government extended low-interest loans to private nonprofit organizations for the development of affordable housing for moderate-income residents age 62 and older. The low interest rates were meant to ensure that units would be affordable, with nonprofit developers being able to charge lower rents and still have adequate revenue to pay back the government loans.

"The Housing Act of 1961 (P.L. 87-70) further expanded the role of the private sector in providing housing to low- and moderate-income households. The act created the Section 221(d)(3) Below Market Interest Rate (BMIR) housing program, which both insured mortgages to private developers of multifamily housing and provided loans to developers at low interest rates. The BMIR program expanded the pool of eligible borrowers to private for-profit developers and government entities, as well as nonprofit developers. Eligible developers included cooperatives, limited-dividend corporations, and state or local government agencies. Like the Section 202 program, the low interest rates in the BMIR program were meant to ensure that building owners could offer affordable rents to tenants.

"The Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965 (P.L. 89-117) added rental assistance to the list of incentives for private multifamily housing developers that participated in the Section 221(d)(3) BMIR program. The Rent Supplement Program, enacted as part of P.L. 89-117, capped the rents charged to participating tenants at 20% of their incomes and paid building owners the difference between 20% of a tenant's income and fair market rent. P.L. 89-117 also created the Section 23 leased housing program, which was the first program to provide rent subsidies for use with existing private rental market units.

"The Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968 (P.L. 90-448) created the Section 236 and Section 235 programs. In the Section 236 program, the government subsidized private developers' mortgage interest payments so that they would not pay more than 1% toward interest. Some Section 236 units also received rent subsidies (referred to as Rental Assistance Payments [RAP]) to make them affordable to the lowest-income tenants. The Section 235 program instituted mortgage interest reduction payments similar to the Section 236 program, but for individual homeowners rather than multifamily housing developers. Through it, eligible borrowers could obtain FHA-insured mortgages with subsidized interest rates. As the program was originally enacted, HUD was to make subsidy payments to the lender in order to reduce the interest rate on the mortgage to as low as 1%.

"By the end of the 1960s, subsidies to private developers had resulted in the creation of hundreds of thousands of rental housing units. Approximately 700,000 units of housing had been built through the Section 236 and Section 221(d)(3) programs alone.7 The Section 202 program had created more than 45,000 units for elderly households.8 The Section 235 program and Section 23 leased-housing program provided ownership and rental subsidies for thousands more. Through 1972, the Section 235 program subsidized nearly 400,000 homeowners,9 while the Section 23 leased-housing program provided rent subsidies for more than 38,000 private market rental units.10 Despite the growth in the role of private developers, public housing was still the largest housing subsidy program, with roughly 1 million units built and subsidized by the early 1970s.11

"Another development during the 1960s was an income-based rent structure. Under the public housing program, tenants generally paid rent in an amount equal to the costs of operating the assisted housing in which they lived. Over time, as operating costs rose, there was a concern that the below-market rents being charged were too high to be affordable to the poorest families. The Brooke Amendment, which was included as part of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1969 (P.L. 91-152), limited tenant contributions toward rent in all rent assisted units (including public housing and all project-based rental assistance units) to an amount equal to 25% of tenant income (this was later raised to 30%). The Brooke Amendment is considered to be responsible for codifying an income-based rent structure in federal housing programs."


Evaluations of Section 236 program: 



Contemporary mixed or middle-income housing

Headwaters Apartment & Headwaters Village, Portland. 




Karl Marx-Hof, the most famous municipal public housing building in Vienna. 

"Public housing was an important issue right from the foundation of the Republic of German-Austria in 1918 after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The population was faced with a great deal of uncertainty particularly as regards food and fuel. This led to a significant number of less affluent people to move to the periphery of towns, often building makeshift homes to be closer to where they could grow food. They were called Siedler(settlers). As the political situation became stabilised with foundation of the First Austrian Republic in September 1919, the Siedler movement started creating formal organizations like the Austrian Association for Settlements and Small Gardens. The electoral victory of the Social Democratic Party of Austria in the elections for the Viennese Gemeinderat (city parliament) gave rise to "Red Vienna" (1919-1934). Part of their programme was the provision of decent homes for the Viennese working class who made up the core of their supporters. Hence the German word Gemeindebau (plural: Gemeindebauten) for "municipality building". In Austria, it refers to residential buildings erected by a municipality, usually to provide low-cost public housing. These have been an important part of the architecture and culture of Vienna since the 1920s."

"A large number of Gemeindebauten, usually large residential estates, were built during that time. Including those buildings that were finished after the events of February 1934, 64,000 apartments where completed, which created housing space for about 220,000 people. Apartments were assigned on the basis of a point system favoring families and less affluent citizens."

"The classic interwar Gemeindebauten typically have a main entrance with a large gate, through which one enters into a yard. Inside, there are trees and some greenery, where children can play without having to go out on the street. Apartments are accessed from the inside."

"This fortress-like structure made the buildings adaptable to military use. Several Gemeindebauten in Vienna, most notably the Karl-Marx-Hof, were sites of fighting during the Austrian Civil War of February 1934, when they were defended as Social Democratic Party strongholds."

"Gemeindebauten continued to be built after 1945, but the style of architecture changed over the decades. During the 1960s and 1970s, the municipality began to build extensive residential blocks consisting of high-rise buildings."

"Today, about 600,000 people (not necessarily poor ones), about a third of the population of Vienna, live in apartments owned by the city."




HBM - habitation à bon marché

"inexpensive housing" system established in France in 1894 via the Siegfried law, financed mainly by charitable sources. Predecessor to HLM system.

HLM: Habitation à Loyer Modéré

("rent-controlled housing"), a form of private or public social housing in France, Algeria, Senegal, Quebec; started 1950. 16% of French housing. 1998 law requires French towns to have 20%+ HLM.

French contract units system (contemporary)

contracting for affordable units in private developments is how France mostly does it:



"Million Homes" program

Rent control

Present day - expanded market-rate housing program.  (noted by Alon Levy). 



wikipedia says Urban Renaissance manages about 750k units. Japan has about 50M households, so UR/social housing is about 1.5% of households. For comparison, US Federal rent assistance (Public, Sec 8 project, Sec 8 voucher, etc) helps about 4.8M of 326M population, also about 1.5%


Inclusionary housing (on-site)


Contemporary proposals

SF YIMBY proposal for mixed-income public housing (2017- )

In late 2017, SF YIMBY group began discussing ideas for proposing mixed-income, financially self-supporting, new housing using disused SFMTA (transit agency) surface parking lots.  See [Trauss 2018a], [Trauss 2018b].

In "DeCommodified Housing plan" (Jul 9 2019), Sonja Trauss writes:

"A large decommodified housing sector is possible in the US because of two facts:
(1) Mixed income housing developments almost always do not need subsidy as long as the land is free, and usually even be revenue positive.
(2) local governments own tons of underutilized land.

Underutilized land
"Your school district, public library, transportation agency, public utility, city government all own parcels of land in your city or town. A few of those might be vacant. Most of them are in use, but the use is probably a one or maybe two storey building surrounded by a parking lot.

"These parcels could have the existing use, PLUS 8–10 storeys of housing on top.

"A new tall building, sounds expensive to build! Who will pay?

"The costs of construction will be recovered the same way they always are — through the rents. Decommodified housing doesn’t mean free housing. The people who live there will still pay rent. They will get the housing they need and pay the amount they can afford. What this means is that a family making $60,000/ yr. could pay $12,000/ yr in rent, and a family making $150,000/ yr could pay $30,000 / yr (this is 20% of gross income which is much less than the 33% that US governments, since the 1980s, have claimed was “affordable”. You might have to adjust for your town.)

"One of the great things about having a public agency develop its own land for mixed income, revenue neutral (or positive), decommodified housing is that public agencies generally have access to cheap money. In other words, public agencies can borrow money to build these housing developments at relatively low rates by selling municipal bonds."



People's Policy Project social housing proposal (2018)

In April 5, 2018, the People's Policy Project (founded by writer Matt Breunig) released "A Plan to Solve the Housing Crisis Through Social Housing," authored by Irish political organizer Peter Gowan and New York-based journalist Ryan Cooper. [Gowan 2018]. 

"By adding new supply where it is most socially needed — instead of where it is most profitable — cities can directly attack their housing affordability problems.

"Second, by allowing people of all incomes to apply to live in these new developments, local governments will be able to charge higher rents to higher-income residents, and thus capture a great deal of capital income. Instead of being a large budgetary burden on cities and the federal government, they could be mostly self-sustaining. (Indeed, in very expensive cities they could become a significant revenue source.)."

"In Finland, nearly three-quarters of residents are eligible for publicly-financed social housing...In Vienna, fully 3 in 5 residents live in municipal and cooperative social housing." 

"We have broadly sought to examine models which address the flaws and issues with existing housing policy in the United States. To that end, we have selected three jurisdictions whose municipal housing policies have been designed to cater to people of various income levels, rather than just serving the 'deserving poor': Vienna, Finland and Sweden."

"We believe that a target of ten million municipal homes in ten years could be delivered with sufficient political will. This should be funded through a variety of federal policy instruments in addition to local resources. The most important of these would be the provision of low-interest loans and partial capital grants to municipal housing authorities, utilizing the government’s borrowing and taxation powers to close the gap between affordability and costs in the short run. In the long run, “solidarity rents” on wealthier tenants would ensure municipal housing developments are self-sustaining or even profitable.

"The form of the federal programs would be as follows. Firstly, the federal government would borrow funds at existing Treasury yields and loan those funds out as required to municipal housing authorities at that rate plus a single basis point. This would provide much-needed capitalization for local housing developments without costing the federal government anything, assuming the loans are repaid.

"Secondly, the federal government would provide capital grants to municipalities who construct mixed-income housing developments. The capital grants would be equal in value to whatever a private sector developer would receive from the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (lihtc) program for a similar development. Put simply: the inequality between public sector and private sector access to federal capital subsidies for housing construction would be eliminated. The Faircloth Amendment73 capping the number of units for which local public housing authorities can receive federal subsidies should be immediately repealed.

"Thirdly, additional capital grants should be allocated for developing accessible and supportive housing for groups with specific needs. These groups include the formerly homeless, people suffering from drug addiction, refugees, those with disabilities, and elderly people with mobility issues.

"The local administration should be responsible for providing adequate sites for municipal housing developments and ensuring a streamlined planning process. Fixed rents for public land should be set to ensure that land is not severely misused, but these charges on housing authorities should be limited to incentivize municipal housing development."


A National Homes Guarantee, Briefing Book (Sept 2019)

Homes Guarantee initiative from People's Action (2019)

"For decades, tenants, residents of public and subsidized housing, and people experiencing homelessness have been organizing to protect their rights and win structural reforms, in and across cities, suburbs, and small towns, all over the country. People’s Action has a long history of driving visionary housing policy. Our members, along with movement partners, have won landmark reforms like the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (1975), Community Reinvestment Act (1977), Dodd-Frank (2010), and much more at the state and local levels. "Grassroots leaders, as a part of the People’s Action housing justice cohort, developed the Homes Guarantee framework over a year ago. Since then, we launched an intensive organizing process: building our base through popular education trainings on racial capitalism and housing policy, forging relationships with legislative champions, hosting a briefing with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, recruiting a policy team, and, finally, drafting our ambitious proposal for a national Homes Guarantee. We completed a draft in late July. "Since then, our member organizations and grassroots leaders have picked it apart and put it back together, making our vision bigger, bolder, and more responsive to community needs. Additionally, over 115 movement allies and institutions have reviewed the draft and submitted feedback



People's Project

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