Why was there a housing shortage after WW II?

I’ve never quite understood this. Why didn’t everybody just go back where they came from? We’re not talking about all the Baby Boomers’ parents getting married and not being able to find a home of their own, are we?

Virtually no houses were being built while the war went on.

In many countries vast numbers of houses were destroyed in the war.

Resulting in a housing shortage.

Wild guess here, but I believe it was the beginning of the end of the multi-generational household where you had three or four generations living under one roof ala the Waltons or the Joads. The nation was more prosperous and people wanted to (and could afford to) live on their own resulting in a temporary housing shortage.

Yeah, in some cases we’re exactly talking about the Baby Boomers’ parents getting married. Or not getting married, but having soldiers come back after 4 years in the military and not wanting to move back in with Mom and Dad.

My parents got married after Pearl Harbor. While my father was in the service, my mother lived with his family, which included a pre-teenage kid. Somehow my mother managed to get pregnant twice while my father was home on leave. By the time my father was discharged in late 1945 the household was my grandparents, my 15-year old uncle, my parents, and my two toddler sisters living in one pre-war apartment. I think it was 1947 or 1948 before my parents were able to get their own place.

One thing that I like about large families is that they can be used to illustrate macro events.

My father was one of eight children born between 1917 and 1928. Dad was the fourth (the second of five sons) and was born in 1921. He was in elementary school at the start of the Great Depression, which of course lasted until WWII. Each of the older brothers signed onto a years-long waiting list to join the armed forces so that they could get free food and clothing and send money home. The youngest signed up when he came of age, and the daughters stayed at home with their parents.

Then the US entered the War. I’m not sure when the orders were changed to this, but the vast majority of soldiers and sailors in the US Armed Forces served for the duration of the war. The result of all of this was that, thanks to a decade of hard times and another half decade of war, there was a point in late 1945 when an entire generation reached the point where they could leave the house, settle down and start a life on their own.

Other factors that influenced demand for housing were the start of the suburbs (i.e., Levittowns and other tract housing) and the move from the farms to the cities.

I’d like to add that right after WWII ended the government offered incentives to veterans to purchase newly-built homes in the suburbs, including reduced-interest mortgage loans. The majority of our servicemen and -women were young adults during the war; naturally, many returning from battle suddenly desired a place of their own. This influx of young couples buying suburban homes, combined with reduced-rate loans and the return of construction workers created a boom in the housing market, which naturally created a high demand for housing.

Here’s one example: Before the war, NYC’s “Little Italy” had 2 or 3 generations of Italian-Americans populating a large, thriving community. Then the young men went off to war and their girlfriends went to work. The guys who came back married their sweethearts, started to raise a family (beginning the baby boom), and thanks to the GI Bill went to college and got some great jobs. Then they moved out to the suburbs. And in many cases they brought their parents with them. The only people who stayed in Little Italy were the guys who never went to war (stagnating in their blue-collar jobs) and their parents, plus the older people with no kids. Now they’re dying off, and the neighborhood is now SOHO and an expanding Chinatown, with a token block or 2 of Little Italy. But the big Italian neighborhoods are now in the suburbs. Many families are still living in the original homes built after the war.

Not only had there not been many homes built during the war, but there were not many built in all the years of the depression. That’s why you see neighborhoods with lots of houses built in the '20s and the post-war years, but virtually nothing in-between. My house was built in the '30s, and there aren’t many like it.

Also the VA loan program meant that returning servicemen could finance homes with no money down. Buying a home on a 30 year mortgage was actually cheaper than renting.


I think those early VA loans post-war were for 20 years.

Many young men went straight from their parents’ homes to the draft. Once the war ended, they had simply seen too much, done too much to ever “go back home again.” The level of death and destruction they witnessed made their survival something very precious, and they wanted to marry and have babies and live a life of peace.

While the men were off to war, the young women left behind had to run the nation, performing all the jobs the men had had. Because of wartime shortages, their earnings couldn’t buy anything. They bought war bonds and looked forward to when the war would be finally over.

With all the savings and the VA loans and the availability of consumer goods once again, the young people began living The Great American Dream of home ownership.

I think the end of WWII brought about a significant population shift over a very short period of time. Large numbers of decommissioned servicemen opted not to return to their old homes but instead settled in desirable cities, such as New York, San Francisco, and LA, creating housing shortages there.