The U.S. government has filed a lawsuit alleging New Berlin city officials caved to pressure from their largely white community by deciding not to build low-income housing that could attract more black families.
The mayor and other city officials voted in May 2010 to allow the construction but reconsidered following an immediate backlash from the community, according to federal prosecutors. Their lawsuit was dated Wednesday and released Thursday.
New Berlin is about 15 miles southwest of Milwaukee. The city’s website quotes 2000 census data that say about 96 percent of the city’s 38,000 residents are white.
The city Department of Community Development recommended that the application be approved. A few days later the city planning commission, of which the mayor is a member, voted 4-3 to approve the general application.
Over the next few weeks, city officials were inundated with emails and phone calls, the majority of which voiced opposition to the project, federal prosecutors said.
“Some of the opposition was based in part on fear that the prospective tenants would be African American or minority,” the lawsuit said.
The mayor also received threatening phone calls at home, his car tires were slashed, his car windows were shot through, and a sign reading “(N-word) lover” was placed in his yard, the lawsuit said.
About two weeks later the mayor asked the planning commission to let him reconsider his vote, saying he was concerned about certain parking waivers included in the original approval.