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Well Worth Saving

How the New Deal Safeguarded Home Ownership

The urgent demand for housing after World War I fueled a boom in residential construction that led to historic peaks in home ownership. Foreclosures at the time were rare, and when they did happen, lenders could quickly recoup their losses by selling into a strong market. But no mortgage system is equipped to deal with credit problems on the scale of the Great Depression. As foreclosures quintupled, it became clear that the mortgage system of the 1920s was not up to the task, and borrowers, lenders, and real estate professionals sought action at the federal level.
Well Worth Saving
tells the story of the disastrous housing market during the Great Depression and the extent to which an immensely popular New Deal relief program, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), was able to stem foreclosures by buying distressed mortgages from lenders and refinancing them. Drawing on historical records and modern statistical tools, Price Fishback, Jonathan Rose, and Kenneth Snowden investigate important unanswered questions to provide an unparalleled view of the mortgage loan industry throughout the 1920s and early ’30s. Combining this with the stories of those involved, the book offers a clear understanding of the HOLC within the context of the housing market in which it operated, including an examination of how the incentives and behaviors at play throughout the crisis influenced the effectiveness of policy.
More than eighty years after the start of the Great Depression, when politicians have called for similar programs to quell the current mortgage crisis, this accessible account of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation holds invaluable lessons for our own time.


“For Well Worth Saving, Price Fishback, Jonathan Rose, and Kenneth Snowden have assembled compelling new data to reassess the costs and benefits of the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation, developing the broader intellectual history of housing support and relating their findings to the recent financial crisis in the United States and current government programs aimed at providing relief to distressed mortgage holders. This is a well-executed and thorough work."

Kris James Mitchener, Santa Clara University

“The recent foreclosure crisis rekindled interest in the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) beyond historians of the Great Depression, with many commentators and policy makers viewing HOLC as a model for a policy response. With Well Worth Saving, Price Fishback, Jonathan Rose, and Kenneth Snowden offer a new history of the program alongside an economic analysis of its costs and benefits. This is a highly useful, well-organized, and interesting book which will be of great interest and use both to researchers and policy makers.”

Paul Willen, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

“The context that Fishback, Rose, and Snowden provide is important for two reasons. First, it is crucial to understand the important role that HOLC played in response to the Depression-era mortgage crisis. Second, it greatly informs the authors’ concluding thoughts on whether a HOLC-type program would have been an appropriate response to the recent housing crisis. Recommended.”


“An impressive analysis of the Home Owners Loan Corporation. . . . In this slim volume, [Fishback, Rose, and Snowden] have produced a skillful short- and long-term analysis of both mortgage markets and a significant New Deal agency. . . The book will be essential reading for all Great Depression scholars and for those interested in the impact of policy initiatives on the US nonfarm housing sector.”

Economic History Review

“A comprehensive analysis of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation. . . . The authors do an excellent job giving historical context to the program and explaining why events played out the way they did. They also compare and contrast the mortgage crises of the 1930s and the 2000s and explain why today it would be more difficult to implement a program like the HOLC. I learned a great deal from this book and recommend it unequivocally.”

Journal of American History

“Well written, easily accessible, beautifully presented, and brief, . . . this would be well-suited as a primer on the issues of mortgage finance, home ownership and state intervention in the housing market for those interested in the history of the New Deal as well as for contemporary comparison.”

Housing Studies

Table of Contents

1          Introduction
2          The Patchwork Mortgage Market in the 1920s
3          The Mortgage Crisis
4          Pressures for Government Action
5          The Economic Rationale for the HOLC
6          An HOLC Primer
7          The Lenders’ Good Deal
8          The Borrowers’ Good Deal
9          Repairing Mortgage and Housing Markets     
10        The Cost to Taxpayers and Subsidies to the Housing Market
11        Conclusion
Appendix: Walking through the Analysis of the Impact of the HOLC

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