Housing crunch

The war led to a huge shift in the country's population. An estimated 40 million people moved for a variety of reasons — not just for military service, but also to find work or seek their fortunes elsewhere.1

The massive migration resulted in marked housing shortages in towns overrun with workers: 98 percent of U.S. cities reported not having enough single-family homes and 90 percent couldn't meet demands for apartments.2

Even before the war, Texas City had faced a housing shortage.3 Home construction, which had slowed to the crawl during the Depression, all but stopped for a time after Pearl Harbor as defense construction took priority.4

"Galveston and towns for miles around were overcrowded," writes Elizabeth Wheaton in exas City, Texas: Its Beginning Its Destruction Its Revitalization. "Householders with spare rooms absorbed as many as possible. Workers slept in trailers, automobiles, barber chairs, hallways, on newspapers spread on floors."5

The creation of the Federal Housing Administration in 1934 had spurred Col. Hugh B. Moore, head of Mainland Company (as well as the Texas City Terminal Railway), and R. M. Orth, Mainland's vice president and general manager (as well as Secretary of the Texas City Board of Trade), to pursue homebuilding initiatives to meet the needs of local residents.6

Mainland Company, which owned most of the residential lots and undeveloped property in the area, opened up new sections to the north of town for development. To entice prospective homeowners, home prices were lowered to figures not seen since the 1920s, and buyers were allowed payments in low monthly installments.7 This strategy was successful, but could not fully meet the demand for housing.

The influx of construction laborers, defense plant workers and their families brought the housing situation to crisis levels by July 1942. With government contracts in place for the tin smelter, a new chemical plant and new refinery units, the city needed about 1,350 more houses to accommodate the flood of laborers. The Texas City Chamber of Commerce, through its newly formed War Housing Commission, obtained permission to build more homes. The commission got the green light for 480 houses and 28 apartment units.8

Overall, home construction skyrocketed 78% between 1940 and 1945 compared to the construction rate of the prior 15 years.9 Although housing never grew to the point of plenty during that time, wartime expansion led to the building of more than 1,000 new dwellings, mostly single-family homes.10

Citations

1Bailey, Ronald H. (1977). The home front: U.S.A. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 143.

2Ibid., 164.

3Benham, Priscilla. (1987). Texas City: Port of industrial opportunity. Houston, TX: University of Houston, 275-276.

4Casdorph, Paul D. (1989). Let the good times roll: Life at home in American during WWII. New York, NY: Paragon House, 205.

5Wheaton, Elizabeth. (1959). Texas City, Texas: Is beginning its destruction its revitalization. Texas City, TX: Texas City Chamber of Commerce, unpaginated.

6Benham, Priscilla. (1987). Texas City: Port of industrial opportunity. Houston, TX: University of Houston, 276-277.

7Ibid., 277-278.

36Ibid., 280.

9Ibid., 274.

10Price, Mamie. (1945). The history of Texas City. Texas City, TX: City of Texas City, 23.