Most issues of Memo this year have featured an article under the heading “40 Years Ago.” This series has been part of NLIHC’s commemoration of our 40th anniversary. The commemoration will culminate in a reception tonight held at the Eastern Market on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The venue was selected because it is near the townhouse where Cushing and Louis Dolbeare settled when they moved to DC so Cushing could work full time at this new organization she founded that became the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
The “40 Years Ago” articles have told the story of the early days of NLIHC and some of the social indicators of the time. We have delved deeply into the many provisions of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, one of the most important pieces of low income housing legislation ever enacted. Indeed, the reason that NLIHC exists at all is that Cushing Dolbeare brought together a broad coalition of interests to make sure the emerging legislation continued to make the housing needs of low income people a priority. The creation of the Section 8 program in 1974 set the stage for the largest expansion of federally assisted housing before or since, hitting the high-water mark at the close of the Ford Administration in 1976.
Many of our articles were about other important pieces of legislation that expanded the federal investment in meeting human needs or creating greater fairness for populations who needed federal protections from discrimination. New data sources became available during that time that made it possible to better understand the housing circumstances of Americans.
A lesson learned from our look back has been that, compared to today, Congress was so productive. They were able to agree on and enact one major piece of social legislation after another. Forty years ago, we had a Congress that acted to help ordinary Americans and move our country forward. Would that Congress would be able to do that again.