Breadcrumb

Special Message to the Congress Upon Signing the Housing and Rent Act

June 30, 1947

To the Congress of the United States:

I have today signed H.R. 3203, the Housing and Rent Act of 1947, despite the fact that its rent control provisions are plainly inadequate and its housing provisions actually repeal parts of the Veterans' Emergency Housing Act which have been most helpful in meeting the housing needs of veterans.

Had I withheld my signature, national rent control would die tonight. It is clear that, insofar as the Congress is concerned, it is this bill or no rent control at all. I have chosen the lesser of two evils.

Without any rent control, millions of American families would face rapidly soaring rents and wholesale evictions. We are still suffering from a critical housing shortage. Many families are desperately seeking homes. In their desperation, they would have to submit to demands for exorbitant rent. Even this inadequate law presents fewer dangers than would the complete lack of rent control.

I have been confronted with a problem similar to the one which the Congress placed before me in the price control bill which it sent me on June 28, 1946. That bill was so damaging to price control that I vetoed it and addressed the country on the subject. Then, on July twenty-fifth, the Congress sent me a second price control bill, in some respects worse than the first. The time was so late that I had to sign that bill in order to prevent the complete destruction of price control. But effective price control was impossible under the new law.

If I had vetoed H.R. 3203, rent controls would end, and the prospects of another bill being sent to me would be negligible. I had no choice but to sign.

It is clear that this legislation marks a step backward in our efforts to protect tenants against unjustified rent increases arising out of war conditions. For millions of families, it will result in substantial increases in rents which until now have been held at reasonable levels. The cost of living is already too high without this additional burden.

It is evident that the present high cost of living should not be increased further by a sharp increase in rents. We must get prices down, not devise means of getting the price of shelter up.

Since the end of price control, the consumer price index has risen 17 percent. Food has gone up 29 percent. During the second quarter of 1947, we have made real progress in checking these sharp price increases. On the whole, prices and the cost of living have leveled off. This progress-and the further progress we must make-would be nullified for millions of families by higher rents. Rents amount to 25 percent to 35 percent of many family budgets. Rent increases could revive the inflationary dangers which we have greatly reduced.

A basic weakness of the rent control provisions of the Act is the so-called "voluntary" increase of 15 percent in cases where the landlord and tenant enter into a lease that will continue until December 31, 1948. This is voluntary only so far as the landlord is concerned. Many tenants, however, will feel that there is no choice. The tenant will naturally fear that unless he enters into such a lease he will be subjected to even more exorbitant increases when rent control is ended. Whenever a vacancy occurs, the landlord can refuse to rent except under a lease providing for the rent increase. Many landlords will press for rent increases whether or not there is need for adjustment. Severe hardship will thus be imposed on many tenants. The hardship will be particularly acute in the case of veterans, who comprise such a large portion of those seeking rental housing accommodations.

The Act also weakens the protection against eviction which is necessary for effective rent control, and completely removes the protection of rent control in many cases where it is still badly needed. Administration of the law will be made more complex by the injection of new procedures and will be made less effective by the weakening of enforcement provisions.

All of this represents the abandonment of a system which has been both fair and effective. In its administration of rent control, the Federal Government has made every effort to give full protection to both landlords and tenants. The net rental income of landlords today is substantially higher than in the pre-war years of 1939 and 1940, or in the previous decade. Provisions for granting rent increases in meritorious cases have been liberalized and simplified. Over one million rent increases have been granted. Controls have been removed in cases where the need no longer appeared acute. These steps and many more have been taken to keep the administration of rent control simple, practicable, and fair to prevent hardship. This has been accomplished without permitting substantial increases in the general rent level.

Since Federal rent control is being irreparably weakened, I appeal to the Governors of the States--particularly those populous States where rental housing is more prevalent-to exert every effort to protect tenants from hardship, eviction or exploitation. They can soften, although not avoid completely, the blow to rent control dealt by H.R. 3203.

The Housing and Rent Act of 1947 also marks a step backward in our efforts to solve the critical problem of providing sufficient additional housing for our citizens. It repeals almost all the emergency aids to housing provided in the Veterans' Emergency Housing Act of 1946.

In January 1946, I recommended the enactment of legislation to meet an immediate emergency in housing. I recommended that the Housing Expediter be given the necessary powers to expedite the production of building materials and the construction of houses.

The Congress responded to my recommendations by passing the Veterans' Emergency Housing Act of 1946. With the emergency measures provided by that Act, the supply of building materials has increased tremendously and the number of new homes built has increased at a rate surpassing our best pre-war achievements.

The Veterans' Emergency Housing Program was announced in February 1946. By the close of that year 670,500 permanent family housing units, in addition to over 300,000 units of other types, had been started. In the first five months of this year 280,300 new permanent family dwelling units were begun, and 300,000 were completed. Although this accomplishment is heartening, it is not enough.

H.R. 3203 will weaken rather than strengthen our means for greater achievement.

The most serious loss in housing aids under this Act is the virtual elimination of controls which have prevented the diversion of building materials from homes to nonessential and deferrable construction. As the supply of building materials has increased, the Housing Expediter has eased and simplified controls over materials and construction. Those which were retained were necessary and important, however, and their removal by this Act may prove disastrous to home building.

The increased demand for materials and labor resulting from removal of these controls may delay a decline in building costs and may even result in further cost increases. Already many veterans are unable to pay for homes at present cost levels, and this will further aggravate their problems. Moreover, delays in the completion of veterans' hospitals and of other essential construction will result from the increased competition for materials and labor.

It is of deep concern to me that this most unsatisfactory law represents the only major action taken by the Congress at this session with regard to the housing problem which confronts the Nation. We should be taking steps to provide additional aids to housing, rather than eliminating the aids which have been in effect.

On many occasions I have placed housing high on the list of subjects calling for decisive Congressional action.

On September 6, 1945, in my message to the Congress, I called attention to the shortage of decent homes and the enforced widespread use of substandard housing and warned that the housing shortage would become more acute as veterans returned and began to look for places to live. I urgently recommended that the Congress enact comprehensive housing legislation to meet this problem. My proposals were directed especially to the needs of those families of low or moderate income who cannot buy or rent high priced houses. The overwhelming majority of veterans need such legislation for this reason.

On January 14, 1946, in the message on the State of the Union, I again emphasized that we faced a major post-war housing problem. I recommended that the Seventy-ninth Congress promptly enact general legislation for a comprehensive housing program along the lines of the Wagner-Ellender-Taft bill then under consideration. The Senate approved the bill, but the House of Representatives was denied the opportunity to vote by delaying tactics within one of its committees.

On January 6, 1947, in the Message on the State of the Union, I again recommended action by the Eightieth Congress on comprehensive housing legislation. Such legislation has been introduced and favorably reported to the Senate during this session, but has not yet been passed by either the Senate or the House of Representatives.

The obligation upon the Federal Government is one which cannot be ignored.

Again I urge the Congress to complete action upon legislation to accomplish the following objectives:

1. To provide public aid to localities for low rent housing for families in the lowest income group.

2. To encourage private investment in rental housing by Federal insurance.

3. To provide a more adequate program of farm housing.

4. To extend aid to our cities for the clearance of slums and blighted areas.

5. To perfect and supplement existing aids to home financing.

6. To provide a substantial program of housing research to assist industry in progressively reducing the cost of housing.

Means are at hand for the prompt enactment of legislation which will go far toward accomplishing these objectives. I refer to the Taft-Ellender-Wagner bill now before the Senate. This bill has been developed after long and careful consideration of our housing needs. These needs are known. Now is the time for action to set in motion a comprehensive program which will assure the greatest possible number of Americans a decent place to live, in a decent environment, at a cost they can afford.

In the face of our acute need for more effective aid for housing, it is unthinkable that the Congress would actually take steps to make more difficult or even impossible the efficient administration of the Government's present activities relating to housing and home finance. Yet, I fear that this may happen.

The House of Representatives has already indicated its disapproval of a Reorganization Plan which would preserve the grouping of our principal housing functions in a single establishment. The administration of these functions within a single establishment is essential if our housing policies are to be carried out with a consistency of purpose and a minimum of duplication. I strongly urge that this Plan be allowed to become effective.

Another danger threatening even the existing aids to housing and home financing arises from the action of the House of Representatives upon the appropriations for the National Housing Agency, including the Office of the Administrator and the constituent agencies. The drastic cuts made by the House of Representatives in these appropriations, if they are allowed to stand, will seriously handicap the efforts of both Government and private enterprise. The effectiveness of the National Housing Agency will be greatly impaired. If we are to have an effective housing program now and in the future, this agency must have adequate funds and personnel.

A continuing high volume of homebuilding activity is essential to provide decent housing for all the people. It is equally important because of its contribution to the maintenance of prosperity and full employment. Home-building should provide continuous employment to several million workers, directly or indirectly, and be a strong support to the rest of the economy when postwar restocking is over and when the extraordinary foreign demand for American products has leveled off. In the past, this major industry has been an unstable element in the national economy, fluctuating between boom conditions and almost complete stagnation. Without effective action, it cannot contribute its full share to the maintenance of high levels of production and employment.

To be successful, an attack on the housing problem will require vigorous action by Federal, State and local authorities, in cooperation with representatives of industry and labor. It will require simultaneous action in many fields, including an expanded program of research--both public and private-on housing materials and techniques and joint action to standardize and simplify construction items. It will require far-sighted action by industry and labor to eliminate restrictive practices. It will require revisions of zoning ordinances and local building codes to remove archaic and obsolete provisions. Finally, it will require a good measure of the genius for which American business is famous to improve home-building methods and to apply mass production methods to the manufacture of houses and housing components.

One of the most stubborn obstacles in the way of any constructive housing program has been the opposition of the real estate lobby. Its members have exerted pressure at every point against every proposal for making the housing program more effective. They have constantly sought to weaken rent control and to do away with necessary aids to housing. They are openly proud of their success in blocking a comprehensive housing program.

This group has sought to achieve financial gains without regard to the damage done to others. It has displayed a ruthless disregard of the public welfare.

It is intolerable that this lobby should be permitted by its brazen operations to block programs so essential to the needs of our citizens. Nothing could be more clearly subversive of representative government. I urge the Congress to make a full investigation of the activities of this selfish and shortsighted group. When the truth is known I am confident that this obstacle to constructive housing legislation will be removed.

The lack of adequate housing marks a glaring gap in our achievements toward fulfilling the promise of democracy. The American people today are better fed than ever before. They have more clothes and more goods of almost all sorts. In the few cases where war-induced scarcities still exist, American industry is catching up with demand at great speed. But this is not true of housing.

The progress in housing has not kept pace with progress in other fields. Private industry has not done and cannot do the whole job without Government aid. Much has been achieved with the measures heretofore authorized by the Congress. But they are far from adequate. In no part of our national life is there more urgent need for constructive legislation at this time.

I sincerely trust that the Congress will not end this session without meeting the problem squarely.
HARRY S. TRUMAN

NOTE: The Housing and Rent Act of 1947 is Public Law 129, 80th Congress (61 Stat. 193).

The Taft-Ellender-Wagner housing bill (S. 866) passed the Senate on April 22, 1948, but was not concurred in by the House of Representatives.

After reconsideration by the House of Representatives, Reorganization Plan 3 of 1947, providing for a consolidation of certain designated agencies to form the Housing and Home Finance Agency, became effective on July 27, 1947. It is published in the U.S. Statutes at Large (61 Stat. 954) and in the 1943-1948 Compilation of title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations (p. 1071).