Academic journal article Journal of Social History

Be a Patriot, Buy a Home: Re-Imagining Home Owners and Home Ownership in Early 20th Century Atlanta

Academic journal article Journal of Social History

Be a Patriot, Buy a Home: Re-Imagining Home Owners and Home Ownership in Early 20th Century Atlanta

Article excerpt

In a 1945 review of John Dean's Homeownership: Is It Sound?, real estate analyst Helen Monchow observed that Dean had set himself an unpopular task in examining "an institution so long established, so deep seated, and so widely accepted as a principle or ideal of the so-called American way of life." She continued that "Enthusiasm for homeownership- or at least equal opportunity for homeownership--amounts almost to a religion in this country." (1) But in 1945, the position of homeownership as a sacrosanct institution had just reached maturity. The Homeowners' Loan Corporation (HOLC), Federal Housing Administration (FHA), and the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (FHLBB) of the 1930s, and the Veterans Administration (VA) program of the 1940s buttressed the (largely white) migration to single family homes in the suburbs just after World War II, institutions and policies that have been investigated (and complicated) by a range of social scientists. (2) This article examines the era prior to that significant wave of legislation, when the federal government joined with the real estate interests to reassert the meaning of homeownership within American society. (3)

This study of Atlanta's experience with early 20th century homeownership campaigns indicates that, in the years following the Great War, various historical friends converged that pressed the federal government and the housing in dustry to re imagine and re position homeownership. I use the term re position because as Donald Krueckeberg, Peter Dreier, J. Paul Mitchell and others have shown, bias toward property ownership over renting has existed throughout the history of the nation (4) But federal desires to use property ownership to calm political turmoil and buttress and reinvigorate land markets combined with private land interests to encourage new cultural constructions of the homeowner and homeownership. By imbuing homeownership and homeowners with partic ular meanings, federal and private interests were able to entice Americans into adopting practices and frameworks that served a number of national interests, including the stabilization of land markets and the adoption of specific political frameworks. By forging and delivering status rewards, federal and real estate interests encouraged new attention to homeownership a generation before tax write-offs, amortised mortgages, and federal mortgage insurance combined to make homeownership "affordable" to most Americans. Federal initiatives publicly associated the homeowner with thrift, character, moral fiber, and citizenship. Rhetoric imploring men to protect their families through homeownership was carefully deployed and reinforced. Homeowners were held up as patriots and family providers, the bulwark of the nation-state. National and local real estate interests and organizations followed, and then aligned renting and the renter with negative imagery, such as bolshevism and radicalism.

Atlanta's land dealers initially eschewed the own your home campaigns of the early 20th century and remained focused on their lucrative rental housing investment market; yet in 1921 they changed course and adopted promotional strategies that, by then, had pervaded the nation for three years. Examining how the national homeownership movement drew in a formerly rental-oriented land market elucidates not just the power of the federal-private property interest nexus, but how, over a very short period, this coalition built a successful campaign that used traditional American imagery to create a new discourse of home and homeownership. By investigating how Atlanta's land dealers were enticed into the national homeownership trajectory, we better understand how--throughout the U.S.--the terms homeowner and homeownerskip were charged with particular meanings that were, in the 1930s and 1940s, solidified in public policies.

Atlanta Real Estate

McBurney's Auctioneers helped Atlanta Journal readers equate homeownership itself with "good society" when they pitched, "Davis Street is settled with a good class of people, most of whom own their own homes. …

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