Housing is often regarded as a problem unrelated to other aspects of the life of a community. Housing is really one part of the great economic problem of all time, namely, that of the production and distribution of wealth.

I suppose that the extent to which man has taken thought for his house has been a rough measure of his advance in civilization. The actual house that covers him is but a part of the housing problem. The housing problem is conditioned by the supply of water and a system of sewerage. There were fine houses in classical times and fine houses in the middle ages for the rich, but there was not much safety from disease, for adequate drainage is of very recent date; so is a pure water supply. It is not many years ago that the general theory was discovered, and yet before that discovery it was commonly deemed very unsafe on the continent of Europe to drink water. Water at best was for washing, not for internal use. They did not know why it was dangerous but they rightly concluded that it was dangerous. So in my youth in this country night air was regarded as dangerous. In the heat of summer prudent persons kept their windows shut. It was possibly well that they did so, for they excluded the mosquitoes that would have given them malaria. They did not know why they kept their windows shut, but there was a reason.....In most growing cities of the United States the worst housing conditions are to be found where houses built for the use of one family are used for many families either with or without some structural changes. A large majority of the people of the United States are housed in wooden buildings constructed for the use of one family. If properly constructed and adequately spaced, they afford very good homes indeed. When poorly constructed and placed close together they are insanitary and constitute a serious fire hazard.....

We have interfered with the production of wealth by tariffs and various forms of stupid taxes but in spite of these interferences our natural advantages have been so great that the production of wealth has increased at an amazing speed. We have interfered with the equitable distribution of this wealth and so have reduced the quantity of production as well as given to some persons more than they earn, with a consequence that the other persons have received less than they earn. If all governmental interference were swept away, it would seem to-day that the power to produce wealth in the United States is so tremendous that every family should be well housed according to the standards of to-day. We know that they are not, but that they are well housed on the average according to the standards of not long ago.....

1 Adapted from "The Housing of the Very Poor" (abstract of a paper read before the International Housing and Town Planning Congress, Paris), American City, July, 1928.