We were reading Antero Pietila's Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped American City, and came across a reference to religious quotas. Pietila tells an interesting story about The Maylander apartment building, a 507-unit building near Johns Hopkins that was finished in 1951. Three years after the Supreme Court deemed restrictive covenants unenforceable in Shelley v. Kraemer, the management company behind the Marylander instituted a quota for Jews: until the building was 75 percent occupied, no more than 12 percent of tenants could be Jewish.
We wondered, what is the history of using RACIAL AND RELIGIOUS QUOTAS in housing? With some internet research, we came across the fascinating story of Starrett City. In an effort to achieve a tenant mix of 55 percent white and 45 percent black or Hispanic, managers of Brooklyn’s Starrett City—a 46-building moderate-income housing development that opened in 1974—enforced a racial quota. As whites were vastly outnumbered by blacks and Hispanics on the waiting list, enforcing the quota meant giving preferential treatment to whites. As Robert C. Rosenberg, the general manager of Starrett City said in a 1988 interview with The New York Times, “We have understood from the very beginning that this is a form of discrimination, but there is no other way effectively to bring about large-scale integrated communities.”
Starrett City wasn’t the only development to use racial quotas for purposes of integration. Developers of Chicago’s Atrium Village, a 309-unit housing complex built in 1979 as a buffer between Cabrini-Green and the city’s Gold Coast, used quotas to achieve a 50 / 50 split between blacks and whites (State housing officials and HUD proposed a 70 / 30 ratio, fearing that anything over 30 percent was a tipping point, but the coalition of churches behind the project objected). Quotas were also used in developments in Boston and Charleston. (Quotas have also been used in Singapore since 1989 to create a balance between Singapore’s Malay, Indian, and Chinese populations.)
Racial quotas were challenged by the Reagan administration, for whom racial integration wasn’t exactly a priority. In a suit filed in 1984, the United States Justice Department, led by William Bradford Reynolds, the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, successfully argued that racial quotas violated the Fair Housing Act, and ended the programs at Starrett City and Atrium Village. As critics have pointed out, this was smart politicking on Reagan’s part: Reagan was able to strike a blow against affirmative action while claiming to take a stand for blacks (the quotas were originally challenged by the NAACP in 1980). At issue here was an age-old (and ongoing) disagreement about the intention of the Fair Housing Act. Is it, as Rosenburg put it, “to bring about an integrated society and not have two separate societies,” or, as Reynolds and his team would argue, to refrain from discriminating against any individual on the basis of race?
Interestingly, Starrett City has managed to remain integrated without the quotas. In 2000, of the 14,620 people living in Starrett City, 44.7 percent are African American, 38 percent are White, 18.4 percent are Hispanic or Latino, and 4.1 percent are Asian.
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