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Housing Is A Human Right. Our President Disagrees

President Donald Trump’s pledge to rollback an Obama-era effort to eliminate racial disparities in America’s suburbs is drawing harsh criticism from fair housing advocates, who call it a blatant attempt at racial politics and an appeal to white votes before the November election. In this 2019 file photo, rows of homes are pictured in suburban Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer/AP)
President Donald Trump’s pledge to rollback an Obama-era effort to eliminate racial disparities in America’s suburbs is drawing harsh criticism from fair housing advocates, who call it a blatant attempt at racial politics and an appeal to white votes before the November election. In this 2019 file photo, rows of homes are pictured in suburban Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

The ongoing movement for racial justice shines a bright light on inequality that persists in our country, and housing discrimination is one of the most profound and devastating examples.

Fair access to affordable housing and homeownership opportunities are key to a strong middle class. It’s how generations of white American families have put down roots as members of strong communities, built wealth and realized their American Dreams. Black families have historically been shut out of these opportunities, which has led to intentional segregation, concentrations of poverty and a huge — and expanding — racial wealth gap.

In Boston, we’ve worked hard to address these inequities, by creating more affordable housing; ensuring fair access to homeownership opportunities; fostering integrated neighborhoods; and protecting tenants’ rights. The White House’s continued attacks on fair housing regulations threaten to take us backward, and they must be stopped.

Last week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development gutted a fair housing regulation aimed at addressing the continued segregation of U.S. cities and suburbs, all but eliminating the responsibility of cities and states to promote fair housing. This is a destructive move, especially as people of color continue to face discriminatory policies and practices in the housing market.

A recent report by Suffolk University and The Boston Foundation found evidence of racial discrimination in the greater Boston area housing market. Their study revealed that Black participants were shown fewer apartments and offered fewer incentives to rent than their white counterparts. It’s clear how much work is left to be done, and we must move forward, not backward.

In Boston, we will never waver in our commitment to fair housing, especially as we work toward an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent years we have built a record amount of affordable housing, and we have found new sources, such as the Community Preservation Act, to increase our subsidized housing funds. We have stepped into the void left by the Federal government and used City resources to renovate public housing and preserve our affordable housing. And we have maintained the highest percentage of income-restricted housing of any large U.S. city.

The only way to battle decades of racist housing policies is to aggressively undo them, and that’s something we must never stop fighting for.

We’re also focusing on creating more homeownership opportunities. That’s one of the main goals of our Boston Home Center and our One+ Boston Mortgage Program. We’re increasing the budget of our Office of Fair Housing & Equity, so that we can continue to tackle racism in our housing market.

In light of the pandemic, we halted evictions in public housing, worked with lenders to prevent foreclosures and advocated at the State House for the eviction and foreclosure moratorium. We dedicated millions of dollars for rental relief, and we continue to strengthen programs and policies that will ensure fair housing and homeownership opportunities far beyond this public health crisis.

Expanding housing choice is an ongoing effort of my administration. Last year, we adopted new Section 8 rent guidelines that empower voucher holders to pursue stable housing in every Boston neighborhood. The Boston Housing Authority and our Office of Fair Housing and Equity have launched a partnership to tighten enforcement about discrimination complaints, and provide outreach and engagement on fair housing laws and rights to voucher holders seeking housing.

This year, we are pushing for State legislation to keep people in their homes and protect tenant rights. We will also be filing a new zoning amendment to ensure access to affordable housing in every neighborhood, and require developers to do more to fight displacement and promote inclusion. We believe that Boston will be the first city in the country with fair housing requirements written into our zoning code. City Councilors Lydia Edwards and Kenzie Bok have been tremendous partners on this issue, and we look forward to additional conversations with the Council as a whole and with the community.

Fair housing is key to ending segregation and gross inequalities that continue to plague our nation. Fair housing policies, and the tools we need to implement them, are essential to dismantling systemic racism and to creating a society full of opportunity where everyone has a fair shot at their American Dream.

We ask everyone, including developers and private investors, to support this work and help us in this important equity fight. The only way to battle decades of racist housing policies is to aggressively undo them, and that’s something we must never stop fighting for.

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Martin J. Walsh Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Martin J. Walsh is mayor of Boston. He previously represented the 13th Suffolk District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

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