This article contributes to a growing literature on working-class suburbanization by arguing that both the residualization and privatization of council housing need to be properly historicized. This case study of housing policy in the borough of Brighton demonstrates that council house sales between the 1950s and 1970s were important in the residualization of inter-war estates well before the ‘right to buy’ legislation of the 1980s. Concerns about excessively affluent tenants can also be traced to the inter-war period, although it was not until the late 1950s that local Conservatives sought to push affluent council tenants into owner occupation via capping incomes and encouraging council house sales. The article shows that slum clearance had long been central to the local council’s provision of municipal housing and that apart from two short periods following the First and Second World Wars, council housing was conceived of primarily as a residual tenure by those in control of policy implementation. It further demonstrates that slum clearance between the 1920s and 1960s altered the social constituency for council housing and, combined with selective privatization, specific allocation policies and disinvestment, led to the stigmatization of certain inter-war estates. The article suggests that further case studies are needed in order to test the wider applicability of these arguments during the middle years of the twentieth century.