Wanted: affluent white homebuyers to slow the pace of racial change in an integrated, middle-class bedroom suburb.
That's the bottom line of an advertising and marketing campaign launched by this Chicago suburb to stem white flight and preserve property values.Urban experts say the plan could cause more pain than gain, and critics call the idea offensive to the town's growing black population.
"Let's be realistic, there's some racism behind this," said a black resident, Ernest Wooten Jr. "They say they want to keep it mixed, but my feelings are if you don't want to live here, I don't want you here."
But village administrator Ralph Coglianese says the only difference between his town's $37,000 campaign and efforts by other communities to maintain diversity is that Matteson chose to be more explicit.
"Most of the people would just rather not do anything; it's the easy way out," Coglianese said. "We've seen no history of people being able to maintain racial diversity without working at it."
Matteson, on the fringe of suburbia 40 miles south of Chicago, is a community of neat single-family homes, parks and tree-lined streets, with little crime and rural roots. A construction boom in the 1970s attracted middle managers seeking affordable homes with an easy train commute to downtown Chicago.
Split in half by I-57, the older east side is mostly white, while the west side has become predominantly black. Construction of the $100,000-$300,000 homes has continued into the '90s, mostly on what some real estate agents call the "changing" west side.
In 1980, the village was about 12 percent black, according to census figures. In the next 10 years the black population grew 32 percent, while the number of whites dropped 31 percent. Today, about 48 percent of Matteson's 11,500 residents are black.
Village trustee Denise Clemons contends the campaign is about economics, not racism.