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NHC Beyond 4 Walls Podcast

Celebrating Women’s History Month: Spotlight on Helen Alfred’s Speech at the first NHC Convening

Excerpt from speeches from the first Washington Conference on Public Housing, hosted at the Willard Hotel Washington, DC, January 27, 1934

Helen Alfred’s Speech
Founding Member, Secretary, National Public Housing Conference, and Chairman, housing Committee, National Federation of Settlements

Your attendance at this conference is heartening indeed. It gives encouraging evidence of the rapidly increasing interest in the provision of homes of quality for working men and their families at low rents, by public authorities, on publicly owned land, and with the aid of public funds.

You may be interested to know that there are listed among the delegates present, representatives of nearly 100 important organizations – – federal, state, and municipal departments, organized labor groups, the clergy, economists, social workers, architects, and city planners; and that you all have come from some 35 cities.

To such an audience as this, it is scarcely necessary to visualize the hazards to health, safety, and social habits due to the existence of the filthy, dark, and thoroughly in adequate dwellings and the congested and unsanitary areas common to every section of the United States today. Many of you have had long association with the conditions of life in run-down, below-standard neighborhoods, and are fully convinced of the social importance of housing and the crying need for vigorous and united attack upon the Indecent conditions under which the lower economic groups in particularly every American community live today. New paragraph the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act marked The opening of a new chapter in the history of housing in the United States. From a tragically long period during which the production of dwellings of modern standard and low rental had been no one’s responsibility, this non-competitive field suddenly came to be the business of the entire community through its government. The people may indeed consider themselves blessed in the active leader ship assumed by the president and his cabinet in a battle against slums. In view of the splendid efforts of Secretary Ickes, through the housing corporation and the housing division, to develop housing as a public service and as a tool for industrial recovery, the program of each of the three sessions of this conference has been related to the administration’s policies. But it has been particularly designed to serve as a stimulant to the active support and advancement of this federal housing program.

The Conference feels honored in the participation of persons who are in a position to speak with authority on specific topics. Due to the limitations of time the various addresses are, by necessity, brief. However, we believe that much ground can be covered – – and not superficially.

We invite you to consider housing not only as an emergency construction program, but as a permanent public service as well. For some years, those of us associated in the National Public Housing Conference have been actively engaged in the organization of public opinion favorable to the initiation and development of housing programs by local authorities. We are greatly encouraged by the spirit of unity and enthusiasm, and by the seriousness of this purpose, evidenced by you who are attending our first Washington Conference, as it seems to indicate the promise of a concerted national public housing movement. The creation of public housing agencies, and the willingness of public officials – – federal or local, to act, seems only half the problem. In the last analysis, the determining factor in any worthwhile social movement is united action on the part of various elements in a community.

On every hand, there is a demand for such action. There is no time to lose. Many housing meetings and conferences are necessary. The mayor of every Kee city in the country should be persuaded to appoint a housing committee. The politicians as well as the people need education. Where necessary, legislation must be passed.

With such an instrumentality as a local housing authority or commission, with standards created and upheld by the Federal Government, and with the aid of public funds, surely we shall finally accept the challenge of a remaining frontier: the slums of our cities may still be raised. Good hurdles have been taken to build up confidence in publicly owned and initiated housing programs. Even a year ago, consideration of municipal housing was somewhat shunned by the average person. Today it has become so respectable that there is not much fun left in discussing it. A rapidly increasing body of opinion subscribes to the proposal that only as the local community becomes the rea of responsibility for the local housing program can we hope for a real progress toward the solution.

We welcome your cooperation, and urge your vigorous support in the promotion of a permanent and progressive public housing program. I sincerely hope that this Conference will serve as a call to arms for vigorous community organization in the field of public housing.

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