The adoption of non-traditional housing by local authorities is customarily explained in terms of economic factor shortages or a nationally determined policy discourse. This underestimates the significance of distinctly local understandings of civic responsibility. Based on Leicester and Nottingham, this article argues that those influences frequently used to predict outcomes – like party political allegiance – mattered less in decision-making than a city's intrinsic view of itself. Such perceptions were grounded in subtle constructions of civic community, perceived need and political reinterpretation. Particularly important was the role of the local press. Even cities with similar problems, therefore, could be represented, and subsequently see themselves, in very dissimilar terms and act accordingly.