Published Date

October 1, 1944

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 32: Shall I Build a House after the War? (1944)

General statements about housing often enlist the ready agreement of everybody, but when it comes to putting the ideas into practice, the story may be different. For example, it is a safe bet that no one would disagree on the point that “the slums must go” or that “housing must be progressive.” But when you have an actual case of clearing out the slums on lower Main Street, many interests are likely to clash head on—the people who live there, the owners of the property, the building contractors, the city planners, the tax collector, and others. Similarly, when it is a question of building prefabricated houses or of using spray guns, the carpenters, the house painters, and perhaps other trades may see things differently from the builder who tries to effect economies.

The kind of house GI Joe wants to live in after the war is a highly personal problem to him. The way other people in his community are housed is the setting in which he must solve this problem. Further removed from Joe’s personal life, but nevertheless limiting a solution to his own problem, lies the background of national housing conditions and building practices.

Facts in this pamphlet and questions raised in it describe conditions and suggest principles on which you can base several lines of discussion. Each will develop plenty of material for an hour’s meeting.

  1. You can discuss housing in terms of the kind of house Joe wants to build for himself and his family. Question for discussion: Shall I build or buy a house after the war?
  2. You can discuss housing in terms of adequate shelter for the American people generally. Question for discussion: Can we get rid of rural and urban slums?
  3. You can discuss housing in terms of construction methods. Question for discussion: Do we want prefabricated or tailor-made houses?
  4. You can discuss housing in terms of the hard and sometimes unpleasant facts of building codes and trade practices. Question for discussion: Can the cost of housing be reduced?

Whether you choose to use one or all the above approaches in your discussion program, you will find many points of disagreement.

Plan your discussion according to the principles described in EM 1, G. I. Roundtable: Guide for Discussion Leaders. Arrange to keep essential facts before your group with charts drawn on a blackboard or a large sheet of paper. Various parts of the text will suggest material which you can reproduce or digest in chart form. You will be repaid for effort involved by much more intelligent discussion on the part of men at your meeting.


Questions for Discussion

These questions are arranged according to the four approaches to the subject which are suggested above. You may believe, however, that another approach entirely different from those suggested is more likely to interest your men. In the latter case, you should feel quite free to develop your own plan for your discussion and to use whatever questions fit your plan.

  1. Shall I buy or build a house after the war? Which method is cheaper in the long run? How much? What are the advantages in building? How do general business conditions affect the cost of building at a given time? Should I consider remodeling an old house? Why do some people buy houses that are very old? Should I consider a prefabricated house? If people are content with owning standardized automobiles, is it reasonable to suppose that they should be equally happy to live in standardized houses? Will the kind of job I have affect my decision to buy or build a house? Would I be likely to lose money if I had to move and sell the house? How much money does it take to start building or buying? Is home ownership really advantageous? What satisfactions does it offer compared with renting? Is renting more economical than ownership in the long run?
  2. Can we get rid of rural and urban slums? Is the problem of slum clearance different in cities and in rural areas? Why do slums develop in the first place? Is it the fault of the people who live there, of the property owners, or of some other group? Should local communities take the initiative in slum clearance? How do slums affect other property values? Can slum districts be rehabilitated without tearing down all buildings and starting over? How can slum clearance be financed? In cities? In rural areas? Should it be financed with private or public funds? What is likely to be the attitude of various people concerned toward clearing the slum on lower Main Street: the people who live there, the property owners, welfare and health agencies, building contractors, tax collecting authorities, city planners, and the average citizen? Why does each group have attitudes that differ from the others? Is it possible for them to agree on a solution?
  3. Do we want prefabricated or tailor-made houses? Since we are used to standardized automobiles, does it follow that we would like to live in standardized houses? What are the advantages and disadvantages of prefabricated as compared with tailor-made houses? Is it probable that prefabricated houses might be successfully used for special purposes-say, for slum clearance? Are fully prefabricated houses available? Are they more economical to live in from a lifetime point of view? To what extent have they been used during the war? What progress has been made in standardizing building materials? Is prefabrication likely to be developed on a large scale soon after the war? What are the obstacles that must be overcome before large-scale development can take place? Is it likely that building codes, trade agreements, and building trade policies can readily be adjusted as may be necessary? Why do you think so?
  4. Can the cost of housing be reduced? Why do houses cost so much? How is the cost affected by trade agreements? By building codes? By the number of trades involved in house or apartment building? By trade-union policies? Are present agreements between building material manufacturers, wholesalers, and contractors that keep costs up justifiable? Are trade-union policies which limit the use of new and cheaper materials justifiable? Why are such agreements and policies established? Do you think that building codes can be altered in order to lower costs without danger to public health and safety? To what extent may prefabrication be the answer to a demand for cheaper houses? Assuming that it might be theoretically possible to manufacture and sell houses like automobiles, do you think it would be desirable? What kind of selling organization would the new industry require? How would trade-ins be handled? What about repossession of houses in default of payment? Is greater standardization of building materials a better solution than prefabrication? What are the obstacles to such standardization?