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Public Versus Private: Portrayals of Government Housing Interventions in the Los Angeles Times, 1940-1945


This thesis analyzes the portrayals of the federal government’s role in public and private housing of the Los Angeles Times from 1940 to 1945. Further, it examines how these portrayals influenced the perceptions of the Times readers. The context of Los Angeles during World War is crucial because it was one of the few places in the country where home building, and the debates over it, continued during the war. Because of the city’s status as a critical defense area, both public and private housing were seen as viable options for addressing the city’s housing shortage. I examine four salient narratives from the discourse that provide insight into the paradoxical relationship between the private housing industry and the federal government. First, the Times provided descriptive examples of the city’s public housing program that were relatively neutral in tone although this was a relatively small subset of all the articles examined. Second, the paper attempted to limit the perceived scope of public housing by focusing on a narrative about competition between public and private housing. Although the Times portrays varying arguments as to whether the two were actually competitors, it does reveal how the private housing industry requested or demanded government assistance to put them at a competitive advantage. Third, the Times portrayed the role of government in ways that both obscured it, especially agencies that benefitted private industry, and were critical of it, which included arguments from the private industry for decentralizing government control of housing. Last, the newspaper portrayed an extensive argument during the war years about whether private or public housing would fill the postwar landscape. Ultimately, I argue these portrayals worked to limit readers’ perceptions about government involvement in the private housing industry while simultaneously presenting a case for the elimination of public housing.

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