City Councilors Address Housing Discrimination in Boston

On Tuesday, Oct. 13, City Councilors Matt O’Malley, AnnissaEssaibi-George, Kenzie Bok, Liz Breadon, Ricardo Arroyo, and Chair of the Housing and Community Development Committee, Lydia Edwards addressed housing discrimination based on race, disability status, family size, source-of-income, and other socioeconomic factors in the City of Boston in a public hearing. This hearing aims to examine Boston’s rental housing practices and present policy solutions to discriminatory practices, such as creating a municipal fair housing testing program and eliminating brokerage fees.

 In July 2020, Suffolk University Law School published a study, Qualified Renters Need Not

Apply: Race and Voucher Discrimination in the Metro Boston Housing Market. Findings from their Housing Discrimination Testing Program revealed evidence of discrimination based on voucher status in 86 percent of the tests, and discrimination based on the prospective renter’s race in 71 percent of the tests. In a similar August 2019 study, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found that discrimination towards voucher holders is even worse in Boston’s “higher-opportunity neighborhoods,” and that the race of the voucher holder has an even deeper impact in these neighborhoods.

Councilors AnnissaEssaibi-George, Liz Breadon, and Lydia Edwards will be examining the housing voucher program and efforts the City could take to reduce discriminatory behavior against housing voucher holders, especially given Boston’s family homelessness crisis. “

“With 5,000 homeless students in BPS, Boston is faced with a crisis of family homelessness due to the lack of affordable-family sized units,” said Councilor Essaibi-George in a press release. “As we adjust from the economic impact of COVID19 pandemic, preventing voucher discrimination is critical to making sure our families are stably housed and supported in our recovery.”

“As Boston continues to face a family homelessness and displacement crisis, vouchers are one of the most effective tools for families to stably find housing in the private market,” said Councilor Liz Breadon. “The City of Boston must ensure enforcement of our nondiscrimination ordinance and pose stronger measures to prohibit discrimination of voucher holders and our families.”

The impact of COVID-19 has exacerbated the long-existing issue of displacement for families in Boston, especially in majority-Black neighborhoods. Due to the upcoming expiration of the state’s eviction and foreclosure moratorium, thousands of families will be at risk of eviction and housing instability. City Life/Vida Urbana and MIT researchers have found that despite only 18 percent of Boston renters live in majority-Black neighborhoods, 37 percent of evictions occur in those neighborhoods.

Councilors Matt O’Malley, Kenzie Bok, and Lydia Edwards examined a policy solution to address discriminatory housing practices by implementing a municipal fair housing testing program.

“The coronavirus pandemic has unmasked and exacerbated housing instability in Boston. When these evictions occur and families are thrust into a rental housing market that is discriminatory, there will be an irreversible displacement to an unprecedented degree,” said Councilor Matt O’Malley. “We must implement this testing at the municipal level to allow everyone a chance at fair housing.”

“We desperately need more tools to protect renters in Boston, and Fair Housing Testing is one that can really make a difference,” said Councilor Kenzie Bok. “In cities like Seattle, fair housing testing is not only used to charge bad actors, but to bring landlords, property managers, and brokers into active compliance with fair housing law.”

Councilor Ricardo Arroyo will also address the issue of housing discrimination and look at the recommendations put forward in the 2020 Suffolk University Law School study, including eliminating broker fees, increasing penalties and training for real estate professionals, and other solutions.

“Housing discrimination exists in the City of Boston – we know this,” said Councilor Arroyo.

“That is why it is pivotal that we address this in a multi-layered, structural way which penalizes and prevents continued housing discrimination in the City of Boston.”

“We have to be vigilant in fighting against housing discrimination,” said Councilor Lydia Edwards. “We need to know who is discriminating and who is being discriminated against.”

For more information, please contact:

Jessica Morris (Councilor O’Malley’s office) at (203) 362-7806

Malaika Lucien (Councilor Essaibi-George’s office) at (857) 337-4237

Ricardo Patrón (Councilor Edwards’ office) at (617) 447-7356

Emily Brown (Councilor Bok’s office) at (617) 519-7519

Pam Mullaney (Councilor Breadon’s office) at (617) 894-9037

Caitlin Fleishman (Councilor Arroyo’s office) at (413) 636-8665

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