In the summer of 1949 the United States Congress took action to meet the spread of slums and the dearth of standard housing in urban areas throughout the country. For close to a decade urban spokesmen had urged Congress to supplement its public housing activities with a new housing program addressed to the needs of middle-income families. After years of intensive effort these demands were eventually embodied in Title I of the 1949 Federal Housing Act.
Title I provided federal aid to urban communities for the clearance of blighted areas. The cleared sites were to be sold at writedown values to private redevelopers who would agree to build middle-income housing or other projects appropriate to those sites. The federal government agreed to pay two-thirds of the net project costs (two-thirds of the difference between the costs of clearance and the sale price of the site) if the local government agreed to pay the remaining third.
Supporters of the 1949 Act had viewed federal aid as the sine qua non of a substantial attack on urban slums. Yet, the response of local communities to this Act, during the first decade after its passage, proved disappointing to most of the Act's supporters. There were, of course, some notable examples of renewal success in New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia. But most cities responded slowly, and some responded not at all. There could be no denying the need for middle-income housing or the severity of the slum problem in most urban areas. There could be no minimizing the incentives provided by federal aid. Yet, serious obstacles to the achievement of successful slum clearance were still evident after ten years.
Most professional housing officials trace this lag in achievement