Mayor of Newton Joins Lawyers to Investigate History of Unjust Housing in Massachusetts
Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said there is a long way to go before communities across the country, including Newton, achieve fair and just housing during a Zoom presentation on Tuesday afternoon. .
“I’m always a bit stunned when I carefully read what fair housing means,” Fuller said. “The reason [fair housing] is breathtaking, whether it’s Newton or Framingham, Lexington or Wayland, we know we have a long way to go to have fair housing.
Fuller and other city workers joined attorneys from Suffolk University School of Law on Tuesday in a workshop hosted by the WestMetro HOME Consortium to outline the history of inequitable housing in the United States and how communities can establish fair practices.
The Consortium is a group of cities and towns in the Boston metro area that prioritize fair housing.
“The thirteen cities and towns that belong to the Consortium are committed to taking meaningful and measurable action to remove barriers to fair housing choice and, positively, to fair housing for all protected classes,” according to Newton. website.
Jamie Langowski, resident practitioner and deputy director of the Housing Discrimination Testing Program (HDTP) at Suffolk Law, said inequitable housing is part of the fabric of the country’s history.
The first example of inequitable housing dates back to 1619 with the importation of the first African slave, and it persists today, according to Langowski’s presentation. All levels of government and private advocacy groups, like HDTP, continue to advocate for more equitable housing practices.
One of the policies that has contributed to the current state of housing is redlining, a practice that creates neighborhoods based on race in places like Newtonaccording to Kelly Vieira, clinical researcher at Suffolk Law’s HDTP.
“[Redlining] was often racially driven in that neighborhoods marked “red,” as particularly risky, were often predominantly minority neighborhoods — predominantly black neighborhoods, for example,” Vieira said.
Vieira presented two maps of Metro Boston side-by-side – one from the 1930s and one from 2010 – showing a correlation between race and areas “green” – or safe to lend – by the federal government and which areas are “ red” – where home loans are scarce.
The green areas were mostly in the suburbs outside of Boston and were populated mostly by white residents, while the red areas were geared more toward the southern parts of the city, including neighborhoods such as Roxbury and Dorchester, where live a greater proportion of people of color. .
Vieira said these areas of racial segregation exist today, and the effects of this redlining on the wealth of minority groups also persist.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston surveyed the net worth of families in the Boston metropolitan area and recorded a large racial gap. For white families, the average net worth was $247,500 and the average net worth for black families was $8.
These inequities in the housing process exist despite federal, state, and local laws.
The federal government’s establishment of protected classes of people is one of the main factors in the fight against inequitable housing. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 establishes such protected classes as race, color, religion, sex, disability, marital status and national origin. Langowski said home sellers cannot discriminate against people based on certain characteristics.
Massachusetts Anti-Discrimination Act, Chapter 151B adds 40 years or older, military status, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, receipt of public assistance, genetic information, and ancestry as protected classes in Massachusetts.
Other barriers to applying for housing include application fees, security deposits, eviction records, criminal history and minimum income requirements, according to Langowski.
While there are many barriers to finding fair housing, especially for historically discriminated groups, Langowski offered some tips that can help potential tenants and homeowners navigate this flawed housing system.
Langowski recommended that potential tenants save ads, emails and text messages from real estate agents and track prices so they can reevaluate their options later.
Despite Langowski’s advice, Vieira said it was difficult for many people in Greater Boston to escape discrimination in the housing process.
In a study conducted by the University of Suffolk from 2018 to 2019, 71% of black people have experienced some form of discrimination in the housing process. According to the study, officers failed to respond to inquiries from many black study participants and made it more difficult for them to visit the units. Officers also misrepresented the number of units available to black participants.
Vieira said this willful ignoring of potential tenants — or ghosts — was the most prevalent form of discrimination in the study. Ghosting, in this case, is when a housing broker does not call back potential tenants who mention that they have housing vouchers, that helps low-income families, people with disabilities and seniors.
Despite passing new laws against housing discrimination, the United States still has a lot of work to do to make renting and buying fair for everyone, according to Langowski.
“[The United States] never actually addressed what we did [with unfair housing practices]— we just said, ‘We’re going to stop doing this from now on,’ and I don’t know if that’s enough to fix this problem,” she said.