The War on Slums in the Southwest

Public Housing and Slum Clearance in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, 1935-1965

Robert B. Fairbanks
Book Cover

PB: $30.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1116-7
Publication: Mar 16

HC: $89.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1115-0
Publication: Jul 14

Ebook: $30.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1117-4
Publication: Jul 14

256 pages
6 x 9
15 tables, 1 figs., 6 halftones, 4 maps

The untold story of public housing and urban renewal in the American Southwest

Read the Introduction. (pdf)


In The War on Slums in the Southwest, Robert Fairbanks provides compelling and probing case studies of economic problems and public housing plights in Albuquerque, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix and San Antonio. He provides brief histories of each city—all of which expanded dynamically between 1935 and 1965—and how they responded to slums under the Housing Acts of 1937, 1949, and 1954. Despite being a region where conservative politics has ruled, these Southwestern cities often handled population growth, urban planning, and economic development in ways that closely followed the national account of efforts to eliminate slums and provide public housing for the needy. The War on Slums in the Southwest therefore corrects some misconceptions about the role of slum clearance and public housing in this region as Fairbanks integrates urban policy into the larger understanding of federal and state-based housing policies.


"Hats off to Robert Fairbanks! It is admirable when an established senior historian is willing to undertake new archival research—and multicity research at that. In The War on Slums in the Southwest , Fairbanks has extended his reach to carefully chosen cities with an energetic research agenda. This is the sort of book that we need in order to see patterns in the general fog of historical detail. It is nicely placed at the intersection of two scholarly conversations—about American housing policy and about the politics of cities in the Southwest. The War on Slums in the Southwest makes important empirical points and provides key interpretive arguments that will be welcomed by specialists on urban history and politics, urban planning, housing, and the American West/Southwest." Carl Abbott, Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University

"This thoroughly researched regional study of how five southwestern cities—Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, Phoenix, and Albuquerque—approached slum clearance and public housing has value for students interested in regionalism, urbanism, and the politics of social welfare.... Fairbanks provides a unique regional perspective useful for undergraduates and specialists alike. Summing Up: Highly recommended." Choice

"(The book) solidifies Fairbanks' reputation: no one knows more about the fraught connections between housing policy and urban development at the local state and federal levels....a brilliant book." Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas

"(An) excellent study.... Fairbanks shines the brightest when he is discussing one of the three Texas cities. (He) has done his homework with this volume. His sources are extensive.... The War on Slums in the Southwest is a well-written book that should be a great addition to the literature on the public housing movement." Southwest Historical Quarterly

"Robert B. Fairbanks has established himself as one of the leading authorities on the history of public housing in the United States…. (H)e has contributed significantly to our understanding of public housing's shifting role in society.... The War on Slums in the Southwest … is a book that both builds on the foundation of (his) earlier work and incorporates the findings of original research to provide a sophisticated interpretation of public housing's changing fortunes in the mid-twentieth century.… Based upon painstaking archival research...The War on Slums in the Southwest deftly builds its case on an impressive array of primary sources…. (T)his volume (is) an essential and at times provocative contribution to knowledge." American Historical Review

" A key contribution of the book is the detailed account it gives about the important role of the state in enabling or hindering cities to address the social and economic problems that are at the heart of housing debates. At the same time, it highlights how urban redevelopment and urban renewal, slum removal and slum prevention, and the promotion of social welfare and economic health in the five cities are also fundamental reflections of a cultural turn in the discourse of low-income housing. Although the book examines mostly the period 1935-1965, readers will find parallels to current housing discourses in the US and elsewhere, and the need to declare 'Our War on Poverty, Not Yours on Slums,' as the author outlines in the Epilogue." —Environment & Urbanization

“Fairbanks emphasizes the role of national debates about slums and slum clearance in the evolution of local programs.... (He) persuasively argues that a waning general interest in public housing permitted the National Association of Home Builders (and others) to thoroughly destroy it.... The War on Slums in the Southwest reconfigures national histories of slum clearance and public housing even as it offers an exhaustively researched regional study of southwestern housing politics.... This book is highly recommended for those interested in the evolution of American cities in the twentieth century.”

"In six well-defined, thematic, and comprehensive chapters, the author analyzes and examines the history of public housing and slum clearance efforts during the economic ups and downs of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.... He offers insightful discussions of the pros and cons of the Housing Acts of 1937, 1949, and 1954.... As Fairbanks explains so convincingly, the federal government brought, not only solutions to the housing and slum clearance problems, but also became the problem itself.... Fairbanks offers well-researched interpretations of how Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas dealt with, and tried to solve, their slum clearance and public housing challenges over a thirty-year period." Journal of Arizona History

"(A) welcome addition to the Temple University Press series on urban history and public policy.... The author's careful and thorough use of city directories, demographic data, and newspaper coverage brings the uniqueness of each city, particularly the three in Texas, into high relief.... The War on Slums in the Southwest convincingly constructs a regional narrative of a changing social philosophy. This careful analytical study bears a close resemblance to present-day controversies over Hope VI projects, making it a must-read text in urban history." --Journal of Southern History

"(A) thoroughly researched and thoughtful study.... The War on Slums in the Southwest is an outstanding book.... The primary research is exceptional.... The book is a great scholarly achievement that should be the definitive work on slum clearance and public housing in the Southwest for years to come." —New Mexico Historical Review

"In this meticulously researched, comparative survey from the New Deal to the Great Society, Robert Fairbanks examines movements for public housing and central-city redevelopment in Texas's three largest cities, plus Phoenix and Albuquerque..... Fairbanks's work stands as an antidote to ill-founded generalizations about southwestern urban politics." —Planning Perspectives

"Fairbanks' newest work reflects his considerable strengths as an urban historian: exhaustive research and an incisive grasp of public policy and how city hall works.... Fairbanks has opened an important dialogue on a topic that still vexes public policymakers in the Southwest." --Pacific Historical Review

Table of Contents


1 Cities in the Southwest or Southwestern Cities?
2 The Public Housing Movement in the Southwest: Cities Battle the Slums before 1937
3 Southwestern Cities, Slum Clearance, and the First Permanent Public Housing Program
4 From World War II to the Housing Act of 1949: A Moratorium on Slum Clearance and Public Housing for Low-Income Citizens
5 The Solution Becomes a Problem: The Decline of the Public Housing Movement after the Housing Act of 1949
6 From Urban Redevelopment to Urban Renewal in the Southwest
Epilogue: Our War on Poverty, Not Yours on Slums

Appendix A: Social Scientists and the Changing Discourse on Slums and Poverty: A Brief Note
Appendix B: Public Housing Built in San Antonio, Houston, Phoenix, and Dallas, 1935–1965
Appendix C: Occupation of Initial Tenants of Cuney Homes Public Housing in Houston
Appendix D: Total Number of Public Housing Units Built by Selected Cities by 1967

About the Author(s)

Robert B. Fairbanks is a Professor of History at the University of Texas at Arlington. He is the author of Making Better Citizens: Housing Reform and the Community Development Strategy in Cincinnati, 1890–1960, and For the City as a Whole: Planning, Politics, and the Public Interest in Dallas, Texas, 1900–1965.


In the Series

  • Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy edited by David Stradling, Larry Bennett, and Davarian Baldwin

    The Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy Series, edited by David Stradling, Larry Bennett, and Davarian Baldwin, was founded by the late Zane L. Miller to publish books that examine past and contemporary cities. While preserving the series’ foundational focus on the policy, planning, and environmental issues so central to metropolitan life, we also join scholarly efforts to push the boundaries of urban studies. We are committed to publishing work at the shifting intersections of cultural production, community formation, and political economy that shape cities at all scales, from the neighborhood to the transnational.