CHAPA Fair Housing Forum Recap

Thank you to everyone who joined us for our Fair Housing Month Forum, “Planning for Fair Housing Up Front” in Newton on April 29th.

Every municipality in Massachusetts has an obligation to follow Fair Housing Laws and Regulations. But creating communities that embrace Fair Housing is broader than simply following technical requirements. By thinking about Fair Housing up front in planning processes, community engagement, and development decisions, local communities can ensure that they are not just complying with the law, but exploring the role of Fair Housing at the structural level and truly creating welcoming and diverse cities and towns.

Henry Korman, Partner at Klein Hornig LLP, provided an overview of Community Development and Fair Housing. His presentation explored what our local communities and region look like, how we got this way, and the fair housing responsibilities of local municipalities. Massachusetts is increasingly segregated and as Henry noted this has been caused “by a history not only of private acts of discrimination, but also official government policies that required the removal of people of color from some places, the exclusion of people of color from both those places and others, and the systemic disinvestment in places where people of color are contained.” Simply put, the Fair Housing Act and laws like it are intended to unmake segregation and local municipal planning efforts have a role to play in this work.

A moderated panel discussion then discussed how this often plays out on the local level, examples of discriminatory statements, actions and disparate impacts, and what strategies communities can utilize to ensure they are both complying with Fair Housing Laws and creating welcoming communities. The panel included Moderator Whitney Demetrius from CHAPA, Andrew DeFranza from Harborlight Community Partners, Shelly Goehring from Massachusetts Housing Partnership, Wendell Joseph from the City of Cambridge and Henry Korman. Examples of language used in meetings, exclusionary zoning, demographic make-up of governing boards, and exclusion of housing for families with children were all mentioned in the remarks. Strategies for communities to think about included using data to inform needs, thinking critically about local preference requirements, and speaking up in public forums about issues of fair housing and equity. Shelly Goehring also walked the participants through a presentation and exercise in cultural competency to inform our work. Thank you to all of the panelists for a robust conversation.

Participants of the event then spent some time working in small groups to review scenarios of conversations and actions that have taken place in local communities to explore whether the scenarios included any Fair Housing violations, disparate impacts, consequences and strategies communities could take to ensure that Fair Housing is built into their future efforts.

Rachel Heller, CHAPA’s CEO, concluded the event with several points for all of us to focus on as we continue this work:

  • Fair housing needs to be thought of at the beginning and throughout planning processes.
  • Everyone has a role in enforcing fair housing and challenging assumptions.
  • There is an important role for storytelling in this work to set the table for the work of affordable housing and equity in planning.
  • Planners and town staff have critical experience to share, but are often seen as having a vested interest in the outcome of planning decisions. Those of us who are not town staff can bolster their expertise with our experience.
  • Building coalitions, educating and sharing facts must be done at every step of the process.
  • Most importantly, keep going and speak up locally. Be the voice that changes the conversation, that questions our own biases, that says more homes are good, inclusive communities are good, and children are good.

Many thanks as well to the City of Newton for the space for the event and the audience for their participation, engagement in the discussion, and generation of ideas to create more welcoming communities and continue this critical work.

This forum was presented as part of CHAPA’s Municipal Engagement Initiative. To learn more about this work, please visit our Municipal Engagement Initiative page. Check out pictures from the event on our Facebook page.

Thanks again for joining us!