This is not a real estate story so much as it is about history. (Great, I just lost most of my readers.)
It’s about a housing development (not “project”) down in Brooklyn, New York, originally called Starrett City, now called Spring Creek Towers.
If you’re into urban renewal, you know all about it – the “social experiment” that went on there, over the past thirty years.
In a nutshell, it went like this.
Brooklyn Tenants Reflect on Successful Experiment – By Ellen Barry, The New York Times
Starrett City was an audacious work of social engineering. It was marketed as an exclusive island of middle-class strivers in the blighted neighborhood of East New York, Brooklyn, when residents first moved in in 1974; even more remarkably, its planners carefully arranged families on each hallway, like chess pieces, to maintain the racial mix they considered most stable: 70 percent white to 30 percent black.
The property was commissioned by the United Housing Foundation, a venture of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, whose leaders hoped to move workers out of decaying tenements and into modern living arrangements.
They originally wanted to sell the units as co-ops, but that didn’t work out, so they decided to rent them out, with generous help from the state and federal governments (base rents are currently $1,100 a month for a two-bedroom apartment, but most are augmented by state and federal subsidies, so some tenants pay as little as $141, according to the article.)
This is the striking part:
To appease the city’s Board of Estimate, and secure a lucrative tax abatement, the developers of the rental complex promised that 70 percent of the units would be rented to white people …
The building’s general manager aired advertisements on television, showing “three white tenants, one black, one Hispanic tenantâ€? …
New tenants had to submit to a criminal background check, home visit and credit check before her tenancy was approved …
The building’s general manager (with city approval) allowed thousands of units to remain empty rather than rent them to black families — “controlled tenanting,â€? he called it — and allowed the “black waiting listâ€? to grow to around 10,000 names. Consulting with Kenneth B. Clark, the black psychologist, Mr. Rosenberg experimented with mixtures of races, and concluded that whites were more comfortable staying in the building “when we threw in Chinese.â€?
But, in case I’m not making it clear, it wasn’t like the developer was racist or anything – it was all done on purpose, with the support of the government, in order to maintain order and (presumably) to keep the property from decaying and the neighborhood from falling apart.
I think it’s absolutely bizarre, that there’d be something like this, a building breaking down its residents by quota. Bizarre.
Spring Creek Towers was just sold to a group of investors who, the fear is, will raise rents, forcing current residents to either put up or get out.
This has raised the ire of tenants, as well as those in the state’s government (and one of the state’s US Senators, too). It remains to be seen what will happen.
Ignore that part of the story. Instead, marvel at the story, the absurdity of parts of it, and how far we’ve come since then.