The Culture of Property: Race, Class, and Housing Landscapes in Atlanta, 1880-1950

By Leeann Lands | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Park-Neighborhoods, Federal Policy, and
Housing Geographies, 1933 to 1950

What had been the most productive period of home building in Atlanta’s (and the nation’s) history slowed and stalled by the late 1920s and then dropped precipitously as the Great Depression set in. Mirroring the decline occurring in other cities, property values had dropped 69 percent between 1929 and 1934. Just over 50 percent of Atlanta families had incomes of less than $1,000 in 1933, and the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) estimated that three thousand Atlanta families defaulted on their mortgages in 1932. As a result of foreclosures and high rent-to-income ratios, nearly ten thousand families in the metropolitan area were “doubled up” with other families in 1934. Atlanta’s blacks and poor—families who did not benefit from the park-neighborhood building wave of the 1920s—coped with particularly high rents, substandard housing, and aging and overcrowded neighborhoods in the 1930s. According to one study, tenants with annual incomes of less than $250 paid over 60 percent of their income toward rent in 1933, and those with annual incomes of between $250 and $500 devoted 38 percent to rent. Properties aged and decayed; the HOLC Real Property Inventory reported that 29 percent of Atlanta’s homes needed major repairs or were simply unfit for use in 1934.1 Not surprisingly then, and like residents of cities across the South, Atlantans adopted New Deal housing programs that promised to provide more, affordable, and healthy housing and that, in practice, helped impose racial residential segregation.2

Beginning in 1933, public and private building practices and policies combined to sharpen boundaries between black and white neighborhoods. Policies, studies, and guidelines issued by the HOLC, the Federal Housing Administration, and other New Deal Housing offices in the 1930s and 1940s indicate that federal agencies adopted elite park-neighborhood sensibilities and used them as the housing standard. Appraisal manuals, reports and surveys, workshops, and pamphlets instructed public and private housing professionals in these housing and neighborhood expectations and kept this new framework in circulation within bureaucratic circles. As a result, professionals and their

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