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William K. Divers Oral History Interview, March 12, 1970

Oral History Interview with
William K. Divers

Member of the staff of the Federal Emergency Public Works Administration, 1933-37; member of the legal staff of the U.S. Housing Authority, 1938; regional director of fifteen midwest states, U.S. Housing Authority, 1939-40; assistant general counsel and special assistant to the director of the defense housing division, Federal Works Agency, 1941; regional representative of the National Housing Agency, 1942-43; special assistant to the National Housing Expeditor, 1946; assistant administrator of the National Housing Agency, 1947; chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, 1947-53, and member, 1953-54.

Washington, D.C.
March 12, 1970
By Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Divers Oral History Transcripts]

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened September 1971
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Divers Oral History Transcripts]


Oral History Interview with
William K. Divers

Washington, D.C.
March 12, 1970
By Jerry N. Hess


HESS: Mr. Divers, in our last interview you mentioned that you told Mr. Wilson Wyatt that you'd like to be his representative with the private building and housing interests. Just how did you carry out those duties?

DIVERS: Well, I think that it's desirable to review briefly what conditions were at that time. The greatest war in history was just over. The young men who had been in the armed services were coming back and were being demobilized, were anxious to get married, to go to school, to go back to work, to find a job, and there was probably a greater mobility to the country than there had ever been before, and a pent up demand for housing, because there had been little housing built during the war and not too much built during


the thirties.

In addition to that, the money was available because people had saved money during the war, they had not been able to spend it on traveling or on luxury items, so they had accumulated savings and they had substantial money available for down payments. This money had been accumulated in financial institutions, and the financial institutions were in fairly good shape in terms of money available for lending. So, the money was available, and the land was available, but materials were very scarce.

One of the things I undertook was to try to work with the homebuilders and the financial institutions in breaking bottlenecks in connection with the production of housing.

There were some financial bottlenecks, too, because a lot of the veterans wanted to get their loans under the GI program, which was a


very low interest rate. It was 4 percent to start with. And sometimes the procedures would be so cumbersome that it would be desirable to unravel them and try to streamline them in that effort to encourage the financial institutions to make these 4 percent loans rather then the 5 or 5-1/2 percent they could get on conventional mortgages.

There were a number of materials that were scarce. Just such things as nails were very scarce, and sometimes we'd, get reports that nails were in ample supply, and we'd find out that they were the kind of nails that were not useful for building small homes. And other materials of the same sort.

So, my assistant, John Sink, and I served as liaison between the homebuilders and the home financing institutions and the various Government agencies that worked with the housing expeditor in trying to provide the materials that were


necessary for the builders. I don't remember the figures now, but I'd say that the acceleration in the rate of home building was probably the greatest that the world's ever seen because we went from almost a standing start up to a couple of million units a year. Does that answer your question?

HESS: Yes.

DIVERS: I really think that I might add one thing, Mr. Hess, and that's this, that I've always been interested in private enterprise. I've always felt that the future of housing in this country and that the possibility of reaching our objective of decent housing for every American citizen, depended 90 percent on private enterprise and I felt, frankly, that I could do a lot more for the housing program by working with the private builders, the Home Builders Association


and the real estate boards and the U.S. Savings and Loan League and the National League, I could do lot more there than I could by fostering some more Government regulations or getting embedded in red tape.

HESS: Did you feel that you were successful in what you were trying to do?

DIVERS: Partially. I think that John and I were successful in eliminating a lot of roadblocks, and possible roadblocks.

On the other hand, we were continually frustrated because there were things from time to time that we couldn't get done or couldn't get done as rapidly as we thought we should be able to do them. In addition to that we were frustrated because we felt that the that some of the staff were more interested in theory than they were in practical solutions to some of


these problems.

HESS: Who?

DIVERS: Oh, I don't--I don't know that I can even remember their names now, I haven't seen them for so long. But there were a few people on the staff who were recruited from the academic community and who had never been engaged in business and they seemed to think that it was useful to indulge in debate for a month over what should be done rather than to do something immediately.

HESS: I believe that the goal was for a two million seven hundred thousand new homes to be built within two years. Is that correct, do you recall that?

DIVERS: I believe there was something like that, yes.

HESS: Was that a realistic goal?


DIVERS: Well, it probably was unrealistic based upon conditions at the time, but Wyatt almost made it, so that I guess you must say that it was a possibility.

HESS: Did he come close to meeting that goal with his completions? Or was it mainly starts that . . .

DIVERS: Well, if the starts were principally privately financed you didn't have to worry about whether they would be completed or not, they were going to be completed, they were going to be completed as rapidly as possible, and usually for building a home that means ninety days or less. So that--I wouldn't say that his efforts failed because he just had starts instead of completions. I'm just looking at the record(Savings and Loan Fact Book '69, United States Savings and Loan League, 1968.) here and I see that in 1946--well, in 1946 there were one million fifteen thousand starts. In 1947, there were a million two hundred sixty five thousand, or a total of two million two hundred


and eighty thousand for the two years. And when you consider that there were three hundred and twenty five thousand in '45, you can see the acceleration. And you want to remember that many of the materials for these homes came from factories that had to be converted from war production over to civilian production after the end of the war so that there were and some of the factories that converted had difficulty getting machinery because the machine tool producers had to go from producing machine tools for war production over to machine tools for civilian production.

So, there were bottlenecks all the way along the line, but I think that the everybody in Government tried and it was really I think Wyatt's accomplishments were great. The only thing that I regret is that he didn't accomplish more because I think that he could have accomplished



HESS: How?

DIVERS: Well, probably by listening to some different people.

HESS: Who?

DIVERS: Nor, I think one of his weaknesses was that he listened to politicians. It was no secret that he had a lot of political ambitions and he always had time to visit with the mayor of a city for an hour when--and might not have time to visit with one of the--to meet with one of the top staff members who was postponing some important decisions until he had an opportunity to see Mr. Wyatt or--and I can't, I really can't put my finger on it. I'd say that was more that the that he relied too much upon people who thought that things could be--that the rate of production


of housing could be increased by more legislation, more regulations, and things of that kind rather than that you could find out more about the problems and get more possible solutions from talking to the people who actually produced the houses, the moneylenders, the--I mean the financial institutions, the architects, the engineers, and the builders, and the people who produced the materials that went into the houses.

HESS: To bring up the terms, liberal and conservative, did you think that Mr. Wyatt was perhaps a little too liberal?

DIVERS: I don't know. I mean that he probably was in the center of the administration at that time. In other words, I think that I would not put him either to the right or to the left within the Truman administration. I think that some of his ideas might have been a little impractical,


or impossible, but he had a million ideas and a lot of them were good, and were productive. I mean there was no doubt about it and I don't want to give the impression that I'm trying to undercut his great accomplishments because he did accomplish a lot of things. He may have been influenced too much by people who were too liberal. I think that he probably was.

HESS: Who were some of those advisers?

DIVERS: Well, Keys