Public Housing for the City as a Whole: The Texas
ROBERT B. FAIRBANKS*
UNDER THE NATION'S FIRST PERMANENT PUBLIC HOUSING PROGRAM,
approved in 1937, Texas cities secured $38 million and established
ten different housing authorities before America's entrance into World
War II.' Even before that, cities such as Dallas, Houston, and San
Antonio lobbied for PWA public housing projects, which were recently
called "the most radical aspect of the New Deal."2 The following exami-
nation of public housing in the state's three largest cities, Houston,
Dallas, and San Antonio, suggests that Texas cities participated in this
sometimes controversial program because their leaders defined and
responded to urban problems in Texas in a similar way that other city
leaders did throughout the nation. Indeed, they clearly participated in a
national public discourse as manifested in urban conferences and peri-
odicals from the late Progressive Era through World War II that empha-
sized the inextricable linkage of the city's parts and suggested that urban
problems not only impacted the larger city but affected all the other
urban parts.3 This article uses their experience with public housing as a
reminder that Texas cities were not as anomalous as sometimes por-
trayed in the scholarly literature or by contemporary observations.
* Robert B. Fairbanks is a professor of history at the University of Texas at Arlington. He has
recently published For the City as a Whole: Planning, Politics and the Publzc Interest in Dallas,
z9oo-z965 (1998) and is currently writing a history of public housing in the Southwest. Research
for this article was supported by three travel grants from the Center for Greater Southwestern
Studies and the History of Cartography at the University of Texas at Arlington. The author would
also like to thank Ms Lou Walters Caldwell of the San Antomo Housing Authority for her kind-
ness and generous help in educating him about San Antonio's public housing
' San Antonio Express, June 27, 194o This resulted m nearly five thousand pubhc housing
units in the state by 1943. Texas Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, Publzc
Housing in Texas Past, Present, and Perspectzve (Austin: The Commission, 1974), so.
2 Gail Radford, Modern Houszng for America: Polzcy Struggles in the New Deal Era (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1996), 91.
9 Much has been written in the last twenty years about the role of regionalism in shaping the
urban experience David Goldfield, for instance, has argued that ruralism, race, and colonialism
have so shaped the South's urban experience that its cities are really distinctive. David R.
Goldfield, "The Urban South: A Regional Framework," American Historical Review, 86 (Dec.,
1981), 103. For a fuller version of this thesis see David R. Goldfield, Cotton Felds and Skyscrapers.
Southern City and Region, I6o7-198o (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982).
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 103, July 1999 - April, 2000. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101220/. Accessed July 6, 2015.