Originally posted on Neighbors for More Neighbors.
The news that Minneapolis had again passed 400,000 residents last summer is a reminder that we did it before. Buried in our history is a story of a post-war Minneapolis that at one time had more than 520,000 residents, and has not seen as many since. Part of the reason for this expansion and decline was the veteran housing crisis of the 1950s. In the beginning of the crisis, the city estimated a need of 80,000 housing units, which intensified throughout 1945 and 1946.
This occurred during the mayoral tenure of Hubert H. Humphrey, who had run for office on a platform including urban development, solving the housing shortage, jobs, improving race relations, crime and police corruption. He won that election with 61% of the vote, and took office at a time when many American cities were feeling the effects of the war, both in veterans and in housing stock that desperately needed a refresh from lack of maintenance during the war years. The housing crisis was one of the largest issues he dealt with as mayor. The quick summary of the crisis is as follows.
The city had attempted numerous small measures between September, 1945 and November, 1946 in order to deal with a vast influx of veterans. This included acquiring trailers for veteran camps in city parks in North Minneapolis, housing university student veterans in quonset huts near campus, and finding lodging in Minneapolis property owners’ spare rooms through a then modern media campaign. These actions barely put a dent in the numbers of homeless veterans.
The main thrust of housing aid for veterans was intended to be the establishment of the Minneapolis Housing Authority through a charter amendment put forth to voters. Minneapolis voters said no, however.
Any sort of municipal housing program had to wait until after 1947, when the state legislature passed the Municipal Housing & Redevelopment Act, which enabled cities to establish public housing agencies to own and operate public housing. At this point, Humphrey was able to establish the Minneapolis Housing and Redevelopment Authority, now known as the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority.
Historic events like this, combined with present neighbor opposition to nearly every housing project, are a reminder of the importance of advocacy work for density. If you put housing for everyone up for a vote, the masses will say no, even when saying yes is the right thing to do.