Funded by the U.S. Public Housing Administration and built by the Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority (ARHA) between 1954 and 1959, the James Bland Homes was Alexandria's fourth public housing project, and it more than doubled the city's stock of racially segregated public housing units intended for its African American citizens. Alexandria's public housing emerged from an effort to improve substandard or "slum" housing associated with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal of the 1930s. Many felt that the slums contributed to high crime rates and posed serious public health problems. The James Bland Homes project was preceded on the site by a World War II era federal Public Housing Authority trailer camp established in 1943 for African American residents of properties condemned during a 1941 program of slum clearance in downtown Alexandria. The establishment of the James Bland Homes required the condemnation of 57 parcels in a n area known as "the Hump." Many residents of this historically integrated working class neighborhood fought to preserve or receive fair compensation for their homes.
The design of the James Bland Homes, typical of public housing projects of the period, was influenced by the Modern Movement and included minimal decorative elements and the use of mass-produced construction materials. Joseph Henry Saunders Jr., as student of Walter Gropius and a prolific architect in Alexandria in the 1950s, was the designer. The orderly and open layout of the complex featured courtyards, circulation networks, and recreation areas inspired by the Garden City and Garden Suburb movements of the early 20th century and was designed to contrast to the perceived chaos of the slums that he public housing replaced. The Samuel Madden Uptown public housing, similar to the James Bland Homes, was built in 1945 to the west of N. Patrick Street.
"...when I lived in Bland the people that I knew were very happy to be there. The was a lot o camaraderie. We thought the accommodations were great. People watched out for people's houses. There were times when we didn't lock the door. It was a very folksy neighborhood." —James E. Henson Sr., form oral history recordings owned by the Office of Historic Alexandria.