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William K. Divers Oral History Interview, April 2, 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.
April 2, 1970
By Jerry N. Hess

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


Notice
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.

RESTRICTIONS
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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.
April 2, 1970
By Jerry N. Hess

[204]

HESS: All right, Mr. Divers, in our last interview you said that even though you had not discussed housing matters with Mr. Truman, that you always had the impression that he wanted to do everything possible through private financing and private enterprise, and that he only wanted the Government to come in where there was some major problem or some major purpose that could be accomplished by going in. What gave you that impression?

DIVERS: I don't know. I suppose it was the speeches that I heard him make, the comments and remarks that he had made before the committees, when I was present. He did not tell me that directly. The only message he ever gave me directly was, that he wanted me to do everything in the public interest, that he and he wanted me to run the

[205]

Federal Home Loan Bank Board with the interest of the public as the prime objective that the Board should have. And as a matter of fact, that was the only overall direction that he ever gave me. And it may be because of this that I interjected my own philosophy about doing everything that was possible with private financing and only using public financing, or public assistance, where I felt that private financing was not meeting the needs of the public.

HESS: Approximately how many times did you meet Mr. Truman and do you recall the occasions?

DIVERS: I'd say approximately a dozen times.

HESS: Any particular occasions come to mind?

DIVERS: Oh, there were several--no, I--there were gatherings, there were small gatherings and large

[206]

gatherings. There were meetings at the White House. I went over with Ray Foley who was head of Housing. I took the Federal Savings and Loan Advisory Council over to meet with him, really just to introduce them to him. I took the Federal Home Loan Bank presidents over to meet him, I took my family over to meet him, and these were the only occasions I came in contact really with him, because I don't recall ever having spoken to him on the telephone. And I also recall only one telephone call from the White House.

HESS: What was that about?

DIVERS: Well, I don't remember.

HESS: Who was it from?

DIVERS: I don't remember the gentleman's name, but--maybe I do. I think it was a Colonel Vaughan,

[207]

or General Vaughan.

HESS: General Harry H. Vaughan?

DIVERS: General Harry H. Vaughan.

HESS: What was the nature of his phone call?

DIVERS: He gave the impression that the President would like to see a particular action taken with reference to a pending application before the Federal Home Loan Bank Board.

HESS: What action?

DIVERS: I don't remember whether it was the approval of a charter, or the approval of a branch, and I don't even remember the association that was involved. I do recall that it involved one here in the District of Columbia.

HESS: Was this something in the nature of pressure from the White House?

[208]

DIVERS: It was supposed to be, but I didn't believe General Vaughan, and I told him that Mr. Truman had never interfered in my operations in any way, or intervened in them, and that as far as I was concerned I would want to see it in writing from the President of the United States before I assumed that it was his action.

HESS: What did General Vaughan say to that?

DIVERS: Well, he blew his top a little bit, but he didn't argue with me and I just let him talk.

HESS: What was the outcome of that action?

DIVERS: The outcome of the action was that our Board took an action that was contrary to the view of General Vaughan.

HESS: Were there any other times that you received any calls from the White House, ox did you have any dealings with members of the White House staff?

[209]

DIVERS: No.

HESS: Are the names familiar: Clark Clifford, Charles Murphy, Matthew Connelly?

DIVERS: No, the only one that I--the only one that recall was Matt Connelly.

HESS: In what context?

DIVERS: Who called me only in connection with social matters and never in connection with any business matters.

HESS: Regarding Mr. Wilson Wyatt, do you recall if there were any disagreements between Mr. Wyatt and John Snyder who, during the period of time from July '45 to June '46, headed the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion?

DIVERS: No, I don't recall now. I mean I had the general impression that Wyatt was pushing for

[210]

things which Snyder wouldn't give, but I would suspect that it was just in a framework where Snyder had to look at the overall situation, and Wyatt was pushing housing and trying to get priority for housing over other matters.

HESS: Some people thought that the public housing program was an effort to socialize the country. Did you ever run across very much criticism of that type, of that nature?

DIVERS: Yes I have. I think that there's some merit to the charge. I think that the people who were really responsible for the promotion of public housing would not have been adverse to having all housing controlled by the Government. I think that we must also recognize that there were a lot of people who were interested in promoting public housing who had no such idea and to whom the idea would have been abhorrent. But

[211]

the people who were at the--I shouldn't say the people, I should say some of the people who were interested in promoting public housing were people who thought that the Government could run things better than private business could, and I would have generally characterized them as Socialists.

HESS: Who held that view?

DIVERS: Oh, it was not an unpopular view in 1933 and '34 and '35. There were many people who didn't particularly like socialism, but who were disappointed with the product of our capitalistic, or private enterprise system, and they were searching for something else. And I don't know that I could even, almost forty years later, put my finger on any one, two or three people, but generally I would say that a substantial sector of the people who were interested in public housing, including the staff of the Public

[212]

Housing Agency, were people who sincerely thought that the Government should move into the housing field and they didn't care how far in the Government moved. If it was--and as far as they were concerned the Government could continue to move in and dominate the field, if not taking it over exclusively.

HESS: And do you think that some of the feeling of this nature say in '33, '34 and '35 was--wasn't that more or less a natural reaction to the depression?

DIVERS: Yes. And the further away we got from the depression, why the more they declined, although as a result, I think there was general acceptance over the course of the next fifteen or twenty years and perhaps even today there is general acceptance of the theory or philosophy that public housing was needed in order to fill out

[213]

the whole spectrum of housing needs, that private enterprise could not take care of the lowest income people.

My own views were that in 1935 I thought that it was necessary for public housing to do part of the job for the lowest income group. By 1955 I would say that my views were that private enterprise could take care of the great bulk of the housing, and that if public housing were needed, it was needed only for a small segment of the population, and by now I'm inclined to think that the country would be much better off if they had no public housing, and maybe even if they had had no public housing.

HESS: None at all?

DIVERS: None at all, because the tenants in the public housing project--public housing projects in many cities have been the organizers of trouble,

[214]

and it was because there was a concentration of people in certain income groups and even with certain political beliefs, that created a lot of problems in our cities I think. This would not have happened probably if we had followed the same pattern which we had in the years before public housing when private enterprise furnished the housing and the people found housing in the community based upon their income. I don't know that I can add anything to that now.

HESS: A11 right. In your scrapbooks I've found an indication, I believe, along during the wartime when you saw the danger of moving a high concentration of public housing people into the units, and not having them interspersed with people who were not on welfare.

DIVERS: Well, I--yes,