A Wisconsin city in the most segregated region in the nation buckled to racist pressure and shut down an affordable housing project, federal prosecutors say. New Berlin has no affordable housing for general occupancy or families – just for seniors – and truckled to fears that affordable housing would draw minorities to the city, which is 95 percent white, according to a Fair Housing complaint.
The city approved a 180-unit project, but “Immediately afterward, and over the next several weeks, city officials received numerous emails, calls, and other communications from residents of New Berlin, the large majority of whom voiced opposition to the … project. Some of the opposition was based in part on fear that the prospective tenants would be African American or minority. The Mayor, Aldermen, Plan Commissioners, and staff at DCD were aware that community opposition was based in part on race,” according to the complaint.
“The communications they received over several weeks contained express and implied racial terms that were derogatory and based on stereotypes of African American residents. These communications referenced ‘niggers,’ ‘white flight,’ ‘crime,’ ‘drugs,’ ‘gangs,’ ‘families with 10 or 15 kids,’ of needing ‘to get a gun,’ of ‘slums,’ of not wanting New Berlin to turn into ‘Milwaukee,’ of moving to New Berlin ‘to get away from the poor people,’ of not wanting to provide housing to people ‘who work but do not live here.'”
New Berlin Mayor Jack Chiovatero initially supported the project, but was worn down by being called a “nigger lover,” having his property vandalized and a failed recall effort against him. The pressures upon Chiovatero were revealed in an email he sent to a friend, indicating that he condemned racism, but found himself surrounded by it.
According to the complaint, Chiovatero wrote: “I am a prisoner in my own home. I have spent several hours a day last week listening and replying to concerned citizens. … I was asked NOT to attend two functions this weekend for fear it would distract and cause havoc by my presence. Our City is filled with prejudice and bigoted people who with very few facts are making this project into something evil and degrading. … New Berlin is not ready, nor may never be, for a project like this. Unfortunately, I will be doing whatever is in my power to end this project, it will result in lawsuits and making New Berlin a community of bigots.”
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