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Boston Mulls Adding 'Equity Lens' To Zoning Code

Boston could be on its way to becoming what city officials characterize as the first U.S. city to add an "equity lens" to its zoning code. A measure, passed unanimously by the city council on Wednesday, would require developers to study the impact of proposed developments on surrounding neighborhoods.

Councilor Kenzie Bok said she wants zoning to address equity the way it addresses climate issues.

"We ask everybody who's building in the city of Boston to look at our green building standards ... to make proposals about how they’re going to contribute to that collective need," Bok said. "In the same way, [the proposed zoning amendment] says, 'the city of Boston has a collective duty to affirmatively further fair housing.' "

The amendment was first proposed more than two years ago by Councilor Lydia Edwards of East Boston. It would require developers of large projects to conduct a so-called "fair housing analysis" as part of the review process under the Boston Planning and Development Agency. That would include assessments of the effect development would have on protected groups, including people of color, the elderly and the disabled.

Developers would also have to propose ways to offset negative effects.

Doug Quattrochi of the advocacy group Mass Landlords said he agrees zoning is responsible for the disproportionate impact of the housing crisis on communities of color. But he said time will tell whether more zoning requirements do anything to address the problem.

"If this new review step just results in stopping new development, then it will do nothing to help those of us who need a lot more housing a lot more affordable," Quattrochi said. "If it makes inroads to closing the Black-white wealth gap, then it will turn out to be groundbreaking."

The measure must now clear two more hurdles: the BPDA board, and the city's zoning commission.

Advocates say they're confident that there's enough support for the measure in both the mayor's office and at the BPDA.

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Simón Rios Twitter Reporter
Simón Ríos is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.

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