July 21, 2020: Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing

Dear Friends, 

I want to write to you today about a policy initiative I’m excited about: over the past few months, I’ve been working closely with Councilor Lydia Edwards and the BPDA, as well as researchers at MIT, to determine the best ways to incorporate the principle of “affirmatively furthering fair housing” into Boston’s zoning code. To affirmatively further fair housing, as defined by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, means to take “meaningful actions to overcome historic patterns of segregation, promote fair housing choice, and foster inclusive communities that are free from discrimination”. Although the Fair Housing Act became federal law in 1968, its call to counter the history of segregation has remained mainly an empty promise. Councilor Edwards and I are interested in how we could incorporate a fair housing lens into all our city’s planning processes, so that we plan and develop a city that welcomes people from all backgrounds to every neighborhood.

As I learned while working on a project about Baltimore in my other life as a historian, the origins of zoning in the United States a century ago was a deliberate effort to construct a legal means of racial exclusion. By geographically separating types of housing stock, the architects of zoning sought to achieve what the Supreme Court in 1917 had banned them from doing explicitly: cordoning off areas of the city by race. This strategy took deliberate advantage of the centuries-long economic oppression of Black Americans and the poverty of recent immigrants, who were in no position to afford a single-family house and whose home workshops and businesses would be stymied by residential-only zones. 

Since then, although zoning has become a useful tool to preserve treasured historic resources, protect shared public goods, and balance the competing needs of all those living close together in any urban environment, its legacy of exclusion persists. In a city like Boston, its cumulative effects continue to segregate our neighborhoods. Because these injustices were a deliberate function of zoning, not an unhappy accident, they must also be undone deliberately. An amendment to the Boston Zoning Code that codifies the City’s moral and legal responsibility to affirmatively further fair housing is therefore overdue for both practical and symbolic reasons.

In order to affirmatively further fair housing, a zoning code amendment must not only prevent displacement of protected classes — low-income individuals, people of color, families, people with disabilities, etc. — from gentrifying neighborhoods, but it must also provide greater access for those who wish to move into “areas of high opportunity” from which they have been historically excluded through mechanisms of governmental and economic segregation. In partnership with Councilor Edwards and the AFFH Community Advisory Committee, I have drawn on my housing policy background to propose amendment language, formal policy documents, and additional staffing that would enable the BPDA to practically implement a fair housing zoning amendment within the processes of the agency.

Last week, the Council had a working session to discuss our zoning amendment. I also co-sponsored a hearing order to establish a municipal fair housing testing program in Boston. A recent study by Suffolk Law School confirmed the lived experience of many: black renters and voucher holders face an enormous amount of discrimination in the rental market. Getting housing vouchers to low-income families is only half of a solution, because often there still aren’t enough landlords willing to rent to voucher holders, or families, or people of color. We need to set up a testing program to determine where landlords and brokers are discriminating against renters in order to discourage that behavior. 

I’m excited to continue the process of shaping both this enforcement work and the zoning amendment to ensure that Boston can indeed affirmatively further fair housing.



E Branch Closure Virtual Public Meeting

Join us for a virtual public meeting on Thursday, July 23 at 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM to learn about the upcoming E Branch closure and accelerated work to replace track and intersections from August 2 – August 29. For the safety of meeting attendees and the project team, this meeting will be hosted online.
Link to Join: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89092721072
Call-in: (312) 626-6799
Webinar ID: 890 9272 1072

Copley Square Farmers Market

The Copley Square Farmer’s Market is open Tuesdays and Fridays from 11AM to 6PM (11-11:30AM is reserved for seniors and vulnerable individuals).

The folks at Mass Farmers Markets have done a great deal to make the outdoor market socially-distant and safe; you can read more about the protocols, and optionally register your plan to visit, here.

Fenway Fair Foods

  • Come get a free bag of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Residents in need may arrange a no-contact home delivery.
  • Every other Wednesday, 3:30 pm to 5:00 pm July 15, July 29, August 12, August 26
  • 165 Park Dr, Boston, MA 02215
  • Fenway CDC thanks Fair Foods and Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral for collaborating in this project. For inquiries, please contact Jasmine Vargas at jvargas@fenwaycdc.org or call (617) 267-4637 x 13.

Summer Youth Jobs

  • Summer Youth Jobs, Boston residents ages 15-18, Get paid, have fun, and learn about the environment and the Emerald Necklace Parks!
    • ​The Green Team Summer Program combines, nature connection, environmental education, and fun. The program runs from July 13-August 14, 2020.
    • Crew members work during the week for a total of 15-20 hours. You must register on SuccessLink with Boston’s Department of Youth Engagement and Employment at youth.boston.gov.
    • Once registered, select the Emerald Necklace Conservancy under the Job Search tab. For more information or help with registering, contact Kent Jackson at kjackson@emeraldnecklace.org or 617-285-1671.
  • District 8 Youth Summer Interns, Boston residents aged 15 – 18,
    • Our Office is seeking energetic, positive, hard-working, organized, and creative individuals who share their commitment to serving our district, engaging the public, and fostering a sense of community.
    • District 8 Youth Interns will work on two group projects throughout the summer: Arts in District 8 and Mission Hill Senior Support. Interns will also work with community groups including the Muddy Water Initiative.
    • Register on SuccessLink with Boston’s Department of Youth Engagement and Employment at youth.boston.gov.
    • For more information or help with registering, contact Henry.Santana@boston.gov

Other Announcements

The Building Pathways Building Trades Pre-Apprenticeship Program is now recruiting for the fall training cycle which begins in September. For more information visit: http://www.buildingpathwaysboston.org

If you have a District 8 announcement you’d like to share, please email Emily.Brown2@boston.gov

Historian’s Corner: Kelleher Rose Garden

Musicians play outside the Kelleher Rose Garden at last year’s annual picnic

The Kelleher Rose Garden is located in the Fens and is home to over 200 varieties of roses. In 1910, when the Charles Bridge was dammed, the ecology of the Fens changed dramatically, from a salt-water marsh to a freshwater lagoon. Arthur Shurcliff, a student of Fredrick Law Olmsted, began making changes to the Fens in 1920 due to this ecological change. In 1930, he designed the Rose Garden. The Rose Garden was named after James P. Kelleher, the Boston Parks and Recreation Department’s Superintendent of Horticulture, in 1975. A prominent statue in the garden, is a replica of El Desconsol (Spanish, “Sorrow”) by Josep Llimona and was a gift from Barcelona, Spain to Boston in 1986. You can find it at the south end of the rectangular part of the garden.

The Kelleher Rose Garden is open 7AM to 5PM May through October.

Contact Our Office

Main number: 617-635-4225

For my staff’s emails and direct lines, click here

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