LBJ’s struggle to get Austin to accept public housing offers lessons for today

Seventy years ago here, in Austin Texas, Lyndon Johnson a young, first-term congressman took up the cause of housing the poor as one of his first initiatives. His proposal that Austin house its poor sparked then as it does today great controversy. It stirred up issues of class and race and questions about the role of government.

In 1938 as today our city was blessed with great natural beauty and attracted the intellectually gifted to our great university. Restless ambition of government and entrepreneurs fueled on the growth of our community. In 1938 as today Austinites had retreated into a self-focused enjoyment of their beautiful environment, into the narrow intellectual pursuits of the academics and into the frenzied business of entrepreneurs in a rapidly growing community. They had grown blind to the suffering of their fellow citizens.

As a consummate politician LBJ knew all of the constituencies — rich and poor.  He looked around, as those of us who become housers do at some faithful point in our lives, and decided things could be made better. And the way he sought to do this was through the brand-new housing act he had helped to pass.

But convincing the Austin City Council proved difficult.  When the tide of public opinion turned against establishment of an Austin Housing Authority Johnson delivered a speech on the local radio station KNOW.

We are making the text of that radio address available.  It is remarkable how much the issues that were present in that debate over low income housing remain with us today.  Take a few minutes and red LBJ’s speech.  It is fascinating.