The Housing Act of 1937 (Pub. L.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 75–412, 50 Stat. 888, enacted September 1, 1937), formally the "United States Housing Act of 1937" and sometimes called the Wagner–Steagall Act, provided for subsidies to be paid from the United States federal government to local public housing agencies (LHAs) to improve living conditions for low-income families.

Housing Act of 1937
Great Seal of the United States
Long titleAn Act to provide financial assistance to the States and political subdivisions thereof for the elimination of unsafe and insanitary housing conditions, for the eradication of slums, for the provision of decent, safe, and sanitary dwellings for families of low income, and for the reduction of unemployment and the stimulation of business activity, to create a United States Housing Authority, and for other purposes.
Enacted bythe 75th United States Congress
EffectiveSeptember 1, 1937
Public law75-412
Statutes at Large50 Stat. 888
Legislative history
Federal Housing Administrator Stewart McDonald (right) discusses with Senator Robert F. Wagner, author of The Wagner Housing Act

The act created the United States Housing Authority within the U.S. Department of the Interior. The act builds on the National Housing Act of 1934, which created the Federal Housing Administration. Both the 1934 Act and the 1937 Act were influenced by American housing reformers of the period, with Catherine Bauer Wurster chief among them. Bauer drafted much of this legislation and served as a Director in the United States Housing Authority, the agency created by the 1937 Act to control the payment of subsidies, for two years.

The sponsoring legislators were Representative Henry B. Steagall, Democrat of Alabama, and Senator Robert F. Wagner, Democrat of New York.

Although initially controversial, it gained acceptance and provisions of the Act have remained, but in amended form.



The Housing Act of 1937 sought to eliminate what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt described as "habitations which not only fail to provide the physical benefits of modern civilization but breed disease and impair the health of future generations."[1] The legislation outlined four goals: providing housing, renewing existing living areas, decreasing density and the construction of sustainable communities.[2] In order to deflect accusations of socialism and to protect private developers from competition, the act required the demolition of the same number of units of housing as would be built. Furthermore, it severely restricted the income of people who could reside in the new housing.[3] It also limited the amount that could be spent to build the housing to $5000 per unit, which was very low even at that time. These construction projects were carried out by local housing authorities with the federal government providing the funding. Between 1939 and 1943, 160,000 units were constructed. Only 10,000 more units were constructed by 1948.[4]



While the Housing Act of 1937 looked to solve American housing issues, it became marred by inequalities and problems. The main problem that rose from the legislation was the power given to the local governments. The Federal government let the local governments and voters decided on where and how to use the federal funding. This led to local governments maintaining segregationist housing policies as well as allowing many public housing locations to become neglected.[5]

Major amendments


The Housing Act of 1949, enacted during the Harry Truman administration set new postwar national goals for decent living environments; it also funded "slum clearance" and the urban renewal projects and created many national public housing programs. In 1965, the Public Housing Administration, the U.S. Housing Authority, and the House and Home Financing Agency were all swept into the newly formed and reorganized United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). [6]

The Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 was a United States federal law, which, among other provisions, amended the Housing Act of 1937 to create Section 8 housing,[7] authorized "Entitlement Communities Grants" to be awarded by HUD, and created the National Institute of Building Sciences.[8]

In 1998, the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act (QHWRA) was passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton. Following the frame of welfare reform, QHWRA developed new programs to transition families out of public housing, developed a home ownership model for Section 8, and expanded the HOPE VI program to replace traditional public housing units.[9] The QHWRA combined Section 8's Existing Housing Certificate Program and Rental Voucher Program into the new Housing Choice Vouchers Program. The law specifies that at least 75% of a public housing agency's Housing Choice Vouchers be given to families making at or below 30% of the area median income.[10] The act effectively capped the number of public housing units by creating the Faircloth Limit. This limited funding for the construction or operation of all units to the total number of units as of October 1, 1999. This requires public housing agencies to remove or consolidate existing units in order to receive funding for construction of any new units.[11]

See also



  1. ^ "FDR and Housing Legislation". Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. n.d. Retrieved August 21, 2022.
  2. ^ "US Housing Act of 1937, As Amended" (PDF). U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. n.d. Retrieved January 10, 2023.
  3. ^ McCarty, Maggie (January 3, 2014). "Introduction to Public Housing" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. 7-5700; R41654. Retrieved January 10, 2023.
  4. ^ McDonald, John F. (November 1, 2011). "Public Housing Construction and the Cities: 1937–1967" (PDF). Urban Studies Research. 2011: 1–12. doi:10.1155/2011/985264. ISSN 2090-4185. 985264.
  5. ^ "1937: Housing Act (Wagner-Steagall Act)". Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston. n.d. Retrieved August 21, 2022.
  6. ^ "A Brief History of HUD". HUD Archives. Retrieved April 10, 2024.
  7. ^ 88 Stat. 662
  8. ^ "Our Story". National Institute of Building Sciences. n.d. Archived from the original on October 5, 2009. Retrieved January 10, 2022.
  9. ^ "United States Housing Act of 1937 as Amended by the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998 as of 3/2/19991" (PDF). U.S. House Committee on Financial Services. Retrieved March 29, 2020.
  10. ^ Dawkins, Casey J. (2007). "Income Targeting of Housing Vouchers: What Happened After the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act?" (PDF). Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research. 9 (3): 69–94. ISSN 1936-007X. JSTOR 20868632.
  11. ^ "Guidance on Complying With the Maximum Number of Units Eligible for Operating Subsidy Pursuant to Section 9(g)(3)(A) of the Housing Act of 1937 (aka the Faircloth Limit)" (PDF). United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. n.d. Retrieved January 10, 2023.

Further reading