Councilor Edwards Urges City to Prioritize Fair Housing in City Planning

Special to the Times

The Office of Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards has released a new report urging the City of Boston and the quasi-public Boston Planning and Development Agency to prioritize civil rights and fair housing in city planning. The report is available at

“Planning for Fair Housing,” authored by Rappaport Fellow Qainat Khan on behalf of the Councilor’s office, highlights the historic and discriminatory impacts of planning and land use regulation in Boston, tracing changes in the West End, South End, struggles around Boston’s Chinatown and the more contemporary development of the Seaport. Importantly, the report also identifies strategies the city can adopt to promote housing and economic opportunities for all residents, including with current planning at Suffolk Downs.

“Land use and zoning are powerful tools that can promote inclusive communities or create exclusionary and separate development,” said Councilor Edwards. “It’s critical, in the 21st century, that cities like Boston work intentionally to secure fair housing so that every neighborhood is welcoming and representative of our city’s diversity. In a new neighborhood like Suffolk Downs, the city must ensure a range of incomes is represented.” 

The report identifies cities across the country using tools to promote equity in development:

• Mapping displacement risk, access to opportunity: In Seattle, city departments mapped neighborhoods’ risk of displacement alongside access to opportunity, tying city strategies

• Equity in the Planning Process: In Baltimore, the city has adopted an Equity in Planning framework that examines historic advantages and disadvantages facing different populations, the distribution of civic and community resources, and other measures; and

• Zoning for Fair Housing: In Boston and New York, City Councilors, including Councilor Edwards, have introduced zoning policies to explicitly incorporate analyses of civil rights and displacement risk into planning for large projects.

In April 2019, marking the 51st anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, Councilor Edwards submitted a zoning proposal to amend Boston’s article 80 to require a fair housing analysis in large developments. The proposal is pending at the City Council and would advance to the Boston Zoning Commission if approved.

The City of Boston is currently developing new plans regarding Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, but previous efforts have not substantially incorporated policies around planning, land use or development, and have focused on city departments while largely omitting the Boston Planning and Development Agency, a quasi-public entity.

“Residents who see themselves in new development will trust growth and change,” said Councilor Edwards. “It’s the responsibility of the city to earn that trust by planning for all residents.”

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