Blogs| The History of Affordable Housing in the United States

The History of Affordable Housing in the United States

Written by

Anuj Pratap


July 1, 2024


Affordable Housing

Article Contents

    The people in the United States are in a bad situation when it comes to getting affordable housing. These are houses that anyone, despite their financial status, can live peacefully in. What confuses many people is how affordable housing has been redefined by different economic issues, social changes, and politics ever since it was first introduced into society. 

    This blog post traces affordable housing programs in the U.S. from their inception to modern policies. 

    Early Beginnings 

    One can track the beginnings of affordable housing projects in the U.S. up to the 20th century.  

    Throughout this time, many cities experienced inadequate housing and miserable ways of living, which arose from fast industrialization and urbanization. However, the authorities became involved by offering better accommodation for low-income families over time. 

    The Housing Act of 1937 was legislation requiring the government to work on housing matters. This act became the catalyst for the formation of crucial public houses in the United States. In 1937, a charter that created the United States Housing Authority (USHA) was developed to oversee this project. 

    The main aim was to replace slums, build decent homes, and thus enhance living conditions among impoverished city dwellers. 

    Post-World War II Developments 

    The aftermath of World War II resulted in considerable adjustments in the operations of affordable housing programs. The war resulted in extensive devastation, leading to acute housing shortages in multiple cities. For this reason, the government launched massive housing projects aimed at providing low-cost housing units urgently. 

    The Housing Act of 1949 aimed to grant each American family a good home and an environment conducive to life. It expanded federal allocation towards slum clearance and new house building. The main objective was eliminating slums that needed renewal, thus creating spaces where more public dwellings might be put up. 

    The 1960s and 1970s: Shifts in Policy 

    Affordable housing policies shifted during the 1960s and 1970s, when large-scale public housing was phased out due to the unsustainability of numerous people residing in a single place. 

    Such issues forced an evaluation of housing strategies because these high-rise buildings were mostly concentrated among low-income people who could hardly afford basic needs. 

    The Housing and Urban Development Act 1965 created the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This agency had a major impact on housing policies as it implemented Section 8 housing vouchers during the 1970s. This meant that low-income families could now live anything resembling normal lives because they had money from the government helping them pay rent instead of only being able to afford to stay at rundown government-funded housing developments, known as projects. 

    Recent Trends and Innovations 

    Lately, the concept popularly referred to as affordable housing has been expanding very fast, targeting the many needs of individuals who come from low-income brackets. 

    In 1986, the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program was introduced to promote investment among individuals and institutions in constructing inexpensive houses. This program allows people who own property and wish to support those with low income to do so by offering them special tax relief as long as they construct apartments for renting to the less fortunate, thus enhancing partnership between the public sector and government in housing provision. 

    Major Legislative Actions 

    • Brooke Amendment (1969): The Brooke Amendment (1969) stipulated that not more than 25 percent of earnings for a low-income family member residing in public housing could be used on rent. Later this restriction was increased to 30%.  
    • Housing and Community Development Act of 1974: This act was enacted to provide for two main things: it introduced block grants and enabled local governments to control housing activities that catered to low-income families by paying their rent. This is where the Section 8 housing program began.  
    • McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (1987): It is when President Ronald Reagan authorized the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act in 1987. It was also referred to as the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. It dealt with the homelessness problem in America by developing different housing and social services schemes. 


    The history of cost-effective housing policies in the U.S. shows changing ideas about why people should be provided with decent shelter that can accommodate everyone. This began with government participation and served as an essential tool to cater to shelter needs and quality of life. 

    To overcome the ongoing challenge of housing affordability and ensure that everyone has a place they can afford, one must always be ready to come up with new ideas and show a deep commitment to achieving this.

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