ON FEBRUARY 8, 1967, Robert H. Weaver, the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, announced that henceforth persons applying for apartments in federally financed public housing projects would be given such apartments on a first-come, first-serve basis. Weaver, who is black, issued the new rule in response to the criticism of civil-rights organizations (including a group he once headed) that the local managers of these projects practiced or condoned segregation.
Under the old rules the city agencies that ran these projects gave to individual project managers great discretion to pick their tenants. The effect of that discretion, combined with the preferences of the tenants, was that projects tended to be all-white or all-black. In Boston, for example, there were twenty-five public housing projects built for low-income tenants. Thirteen of these were more than 96 percent white, two were entirely black, and the rest were predominately of one race or the other. These differences could not be explained entirely by neighborhood considerations. The Mission Hill project was 100 percent white; across the street from it, the Mission Hill Extension project was 80 percent black.1
Weaver's order became known as the "1-2-3 Rule." It worked this way: All housing applicants would be ranked in numerical order based on the date they applied for housing, their need for housing, and the size of their families. When a vacancy became available it would be offered to the family at the top of the list. If there were more than one vacancy the one offered first would be drawn from the project with the most vacancies. If the family turned it down it would be offered another, and then a third. If all three vacancies were rejected the family would go to the bottom of the list and the next family in line would receive the offer.2 The Weaver