Councilor Lydia Edwards Proposes Fair Housing Amendment to Boston Zoning Code

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Change Would Advance Civil Rights In Housing & Planning

(Boston, MA, APRIL 11, 2019) – Today, on the eve of the 51st anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, Councilor Lydia Edwards introduced a zoning amendment at the city council to advance fair housing through planning and zoning in the City of Boston.

“Planning and zoning can be tools of equity or tools of exclusion,” said Councilor Edwards. “As we move into the next 50 years of the Fair Housing Act, Boston can advance civil rights by adopting fair housing into our zoning code and ensuring we plan community development for all residents.”

The Fair Housing Act, signed into law on April 11, 1968, outlawed discrimination in sale, rental, and financing of housing. The Act does more, however, than just ban discrimination: it calls for processes that actively promote equity. The zoning change will require the city to engage in a thorough analysis of displacement and access to housing for protected classes, such as people of color, families with children, persons with disabilities, the elderly and other protected classes when reviewing new large-scale development projects.

Under the zoning change, large-scale developments would be subject to a fair housing analysis, ensuring that city plans include protected classes of residents, such as people of color, the elderly or persons with disabilities. The amendment focuses particularly on multi-acre “planned development areas” (PDAs). In reviewing PDAs, the city would be required to use data on barriers to housing, and local demographic information, in its decision about whether or not to approve the development, and just as importantly, in how it negotiates public benefits. 

Fair housing is already a commitment of the City of Boston and there are several laudable efforts underway. The Office of Fair Housing and Equity conducts fair housing trainings and, with the Fair Housing Commission, supports residents in addressing discrimination complaints. The Department of Neighborhood Development runs an Affirmative Fair Housing Marketing Program to promote equal access to government-assisted housing.The Boston Housing Authority operates a Fair Housing and Employment Unit to enforce fair housing standards. However, there are not currently procedures in planning and zoning, which fundamentally shape community development, to affirmatively further fair housing or monitor how zoning and planning impact fair housing. The proposed zoning amendment would address that gap.

Summary of key changes:

  • Adds definition of “affirmatively furthering fair housing” and “analysis of impediments” to zoning code 
  • Adds definition of “exclusionary displacement” to zoning code
  • Changes “Article 80” (the zoning procedure for reviewing large development) to address fair housing and displacement concerns
  • Changes standards for approvals for future review, amendment or updates to massive “planned development areas” like Suffolk Downs or Seaport Square, to incorporate fair housing and displacement concerns
  • Raises the standards for public benefits in planned development areas affecting East Boston specifically. 

Source: Councilor Edwards office 4/10/2019