The Great Depression of the 1930s depressed, among other things, home building. Housing starts plummeted 90%, from 937,000 in 1925 to barely 93,000 in 1933. In 1940 rents reached an all-time high, prompting the very first Federal Government rent controls. By the end of the war housing demand had been steadily outstripping supply for an entire generation.
he end of the Second World War brought a sea change to American housing that In just 20 short years altered the entire American landscape, creating whole new towns and cities where none had existed before, and inventing an entirely new American lifestyle.
By 1946, the demand for new housing had been growing for years. All of the "strategic" materials needed to build housing went to war with our armed forces and built barracks, airfields and officer's clubs from Burma to Murmansk.
The most costly and deadliest war of all time was finally over. The total wealth of the nation had doubled in just four years.
Nazi Germany, then Imperial Japan had unconditionally surrendered. Americans produced more food than they could eat, more clothing than they could wear, more steel than they could use, and pumped more than half of all the world's oil. Americans had money jingling in their pockets for the first time in a long time.
There were a record number of marriages in 1946 and again in 1947, and a record number of births — the beginning of the Baby Boom generation. Young couples with infants were living above garages, in spare rooms, in tiny apartments with their parents; returning veterans were forced to live in their cars. The ideal of actually owning a home was distant dream to the average wage-earner.
The government erected temporary veterans shelters to ease the problem in particularly overcrowded areas. It took years and years to save enough for the hefty down payment on even a modest pre-war house. So, the most that young post-war families looked forward to was just something clean and decent to rent.
But, what people wanted was housing: good, clean affordable housing. Home-ownership was something most considered completely out of reach until much later in life, if at all.
But, for once, and perhaps the last time, the United States Congress was leagues ahead of the American public.
Starting as a modest and almost unnoticed provision of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (popularly known as the "GI Bill of Rights"), the government gave each of the over 13 million returning veterans the ability not just to rent, but actually buy a modest first home by eliminating the down payment and guaranteeing part, and later all, of his or her mortgage.
Thirteen million American men and women had just returned from wartime military service.
Lives that had been on hold since the attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941 were resumed.