A Worthwhile Challenge
Heidi J. Joseph, Director of the Research Utilization Division for Policy Development and Research
I joined the Research Utilization Division team in 2020, and one of the most interesting parts of the job has been participating in the Office of Policy Development and Research’s (PD&R’s) efforts to capture HUD and housing history and make it available to the public through PD&R’s HUD User website. We have a treasure trove of documents in the HUD library, the sub-basement, and, I imagine, various other forgotten corners of the Weaver Building. Sifting through and scanning these old documents to add them to HUD User is challenging work, but the effort is worth every particle of dust that I inhale when I take another forgotten document from a shelf. (See HUD Librarian Eric Erickson’s July 2020 Edge article for more information on our historic document preservation efforts.)
In the summer of 2020, Todd Richardson, PD&R’s general deputy assistant secretary, asked me to look out for an old publication called HUD Challenge, which he had heard about from Malcolm Peabody, former deputy assistant secretary for equal opportunity under former HUD Secretary George Romney. No one else seemed to have heard of HUD Challenge, and it seemed impossible that a major HUD publication could have been forgotten. Although I silently questioned Todd’s claim that such a periodical ever existed, I kept it in mind as I rifled through old materials. One day, as I walked through the library stacks moving books in preparation for construction work, I saw the words “HUD Challenge” emblazoned on the side of 18 bright orange, uncatalogued, bound volumes. And with that, HUD Challenge was rediscovered.
HUD Challenge was a departmental magazine published from 1969 to 1978, and its 100 issues spanned four HUD Secretaries – George Romney, James Lynn, Carla Hills, and Patricia Harris. It provides a snapshot of HUD’s early years, when the fledgling agency was full of promise but still getting its federal feet on the ground. As then-Secretary Romney stated in the first issue, “We have now been together long enough to know each other, to have smoothed out some organizational wrinkles, and to have set a course for the long pull ahead. We have defined our problems; now it is time to meet their challenge.”
The content of HUD Challenge is robust, and the stories are the stories of HUD and the people of this country. A highlight from each year follows:
- November–December 1969: One of PD&R’s original flagship programs was Operation Breakthrough, which aimed to “stimulate volume production of housing that can be delivered to a volume market” and “assure a decent home for all of the Nation’s people.” Over its 9 years, HUD Challenge provided a play-by-play of Operation Breakthrough, beginning with the very first issue and the article “Operation Breakthrough: A Nationwide Effort to Produce Millions of Homes.”
- January–February 1970: The article “Recovering from a Killer: Camille” is very timely as another hurricane season is winding up. The article details HUD’s disaster recovery efforts following Hurricane Camille, including helping to restore water and sewage facilities, providing mobile homes to displaced persons, and supporting local housing agencies in repairing their projects.
- November 1971: This issue looks at the Federal Riot Reinsurance Program, one of various insurance programs administered at the time by HUD’s Federal Insurance Administration. (Other insurance programs included the National Flood Insurance Program and the Federal Crime Insurance Program.) Under the Federal Riot Reinsurance Program, private insurers joined under a state insurance authority, and then all property owners within an urban area were given the opportunity to obtain basic property insurance. Owners could not be “turned down because of environmental hazards – that is, because they may be located in riot prone areas.”
- August 1972: This issue of HUD Challenge examines the New Communities program, an initiative with the lofty goal of creating new communities that were racially diverse; promoted high environmental standards; and were laboratories for physical, social, and economic innovation. Although the program ultimately did not meet its high aspirations, this issue of HUD Challenge offers an interesting look at an ambitious program that reflected the ideals of the time.
- August 1973: Revisiting HUD’s disaster recovery efforts, “Disaster Assistance Management: Continuity and Change” details how the responsibilities of the Disaster Programs Office in the president’s Office of Emergency Preparedness were transferred to HUD and its Federal Disaster Assistance Administration. “Development of HUD Disaster Responsibility” looks more closely at HUD’s role in disaster recovery from 1969 to 1973, including the “Year of the Flood.” The article asks a still-relevant question: “Are there more disasters happening recently, or are we just hearing more about them?”
- November 1974: This issue discusses PD&R’s research priorities, including research on all-weather construction methods, innovative plumbing techniques, home fire safety, resistance to natural disasters, prevention of poisoning from lead-based paint, and residential energy consumption. The article also outlines PD&R’s responsibility for collecting economic and financial data, which continues to be a major role for PD&R.
- September 1975: “The Lady and the Lender” explains that, during the mortgage application process, the lending practice for female coborrowers at the time was to discount women’s earnings by 50 percent, because their income was not considered reliable. This practice disproportionately affected minority households, in which women’s earnings comprised a substantial portion of household income, and led to secondary discrimination. The article highlights a PD&R-sponsored study that examined income growth and its relative stability for women borrowers, finding that discounting a woman’s income was not warranted.
- June 1976: HUD cosponsored a solar exhibit at the National Mall in Washington, DC, that included a model home that showed “how a solar heating and hot water system can be integrated into a residential structure.” The home also showcased weatherstripping, insulation, storm windows, and other innovative energy conservation features. Interestingly, PD&R cosponsored a similar event at the National Mall in 2019.
- April 1977: Before HUD’s first landmark housing discrimination study was released in 1979, PD&R was already actively researching housing discrimination, as detailed in “HUD’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Research.” This research included a 1976 study that measured the extent of compliance with affirmative fair housing marketing guidelines among developers, research on the operation of state laws prohibiting housing discrimination based on sex or marital status, and a study that examined factors that deny or impede Hispanic clients’ access to HUD programs.
- January 1978: As someone who grew up in a small town with a population of 49 in the 2000 census, I have a soft spot for discussions of small-town America. In “The Future of America’s Small Towns,” experts convened by the National Association of REALTORS® expressed optimism about the future of rural America. After a shift to urban zones in the 1960s, one expert identified a shift back toward rural areas in the 1970s, noting that “small towns provide a healthy life-style that should be preserved.” The experts predicted changes in rural life, with farm-related jobs declining in numbers, rural towns becoming more residential and less business focused, and multifamily residences creating architectural changes.
HUD Challenge also has something special for the data wonks out there—a recurring one-page section called Lines & Numbers. From data on mobile home shipments in 1970 to the median sales price of single-family homes in 1970 to housing mortgage debt in 1971, the Lines & Numbers columns provide a data snapshot of points in time from 1969 to 1978. Staff in HUD’s Office of Economic Affairs looked at various Lines & Numbers columns, tying housing data from Annual Housing Surveys in the 1970s to data from recent American Housing Surveys. Learn more in the recent Edge article “The American Housing Survey: Then and Now.”
I imagine that most people think that PD&R produces only new research and data, but a key part of our value lies in preserving and sharing historical information to ensure that HUD’s current programs and policies are informed by what we learned in the past. History shows us what initiatives have already failed so that we can direct future efforts toward success. History offers proof of injustices that are baked into the very fabric of this country, providing context for the issues that our nation still faces and the disparities that it cannot seem to shake. History tells us the story of why we do this work and why it matters.
As we continue on that “long pull” mentioned by former Secretary Romney, I hope you enjoy these snapshots into HUD history as much as I do.