Genuine housing choice in Massachusetts?

Fair housing has been on my mind a lot lately.  I attended two educational forums about fair housing last week and also drafted a section on fair housing for the upcoming new guidebook on the Community Preservation Act and Affordable Housing for the Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP) and the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA).

Fair housing laws are a collection of federal and state laws enacted to protect civil rights.  The law that has been most in the spotlight lately is the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) primarily as a result of the the US Supreme Court’s June 2015 decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project (TDHCA v. ICP).  This decision reinforces integration as a core purpose of the FHA and affirms the public obligation to advance integration.

What does the FHA do?  It obligates public agencies to affirmatively further fair housing through regulations and policies.  It also prohibits discrimination for housing-related transaction on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability. In addition, the Massachusetts Anti-Discrimination law also prohibits discrimination on the basis of marital status, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, children, military status, receipt of public assistance or housing subsidy, genetic information, and ancestry.  For example, it would be discriminatory to exclude families with children from a community through local public policies that favor development of units that are too small for families or only for seniors.

What does it mean that the FHA obligates public agencies to affirmatively further fair housing?  Well, to understand this, it is important to understand what is meant by the phrase “disparate impact.”  Disparate impact, which was at the heart of the Supreme Court’s TDHCA v. ICP decision, means that even when a regulation or policy is not intended to discriminate it may still have a discriminatory effect.  For example, many communities in Massachusetts prohibit any form of multi-family housing development through the local zoning bylaws.  Although, there has been no Massachusetts case law yet around this issue that I am aware of, such a prohibition may be seen as causing a disparate impact by limiting housing opportunities for protected classes and hampering integration.

“Much progress remains to be made in our Nation’s continuing struggle against racial isolation.” Source:  U.S. Supreme Court’s June 25 2015 decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project.

The country faces a growing problem of concentrated poverty linked to worsening racial segregation.  Massachusetts is no exception.  In fact, Springfield is among the top five highest areas of Hispanic concentration of poverty in the country. (Richard Florida, 8/10/15 post in The Atlantic City Lab:

Last week, I attended CHAPA’s forum about the Supreme Court Ruling on Disparate Impact and HUD’s Final Rule where Henry Korman, Klein Hornig LLP; Deborah Goddard, MassHousing; David Harris, Charles Hamilton Institute for Race and Justice, and Joe Kriesberg, MA Association of CDC’s gave informative and thought-provoking presentations on the issues we face.

Deborah Goddard’s presentation included maps and statistics demonstrating the level of racial segregation and concentrated poverty in Massachusetts and how private and public affordable housing has been concentrated in areas of concentrated poverty.  (Deborah Goddard’s presentation slides:

Goddard asks, how can we provide genuine housing choice that offers meaningful access to opportunity?

One of many striking facts Goddard presented was that the majority of affordable housing units in the Boston-NH Metropolitan Statistical Area, an area that includes about 70% of the state’s residents, are located nearest to schools ranked in the bottom 10th percentile.  As Goddard explained, and I agree – we need to be honest in the conversation because life outcomes are affected.

This is not a new discussion or a new problem.  Check out this 1975 report by the MA Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights and the MA Commission Against Discrimination “Route 128: Boston’s Road to Segregation.”

How do we address these issues?  I won’t claim to have the answers, but I recognize some of the main problems:  our exclusionary land use regulations; limiting transportation system; local preference policies for affordable units; net fiscal impacts of development on municipal services; and the allocation of state and federal resources.  Learn more about efforts to pass H.1111, An Act Relative to Housing Production to provide tools to help address these issues and meet our housing production needs – see CHAPA’s summary of the bill.

Want to learn more?  Sign up for emails from CHAPA and the Mel King Institute series to learn of opportunities to continue the discussion and identify solutions:


Manchester-by-the-Sea releases draft CP Plan for public review

Historic Postcard of Singing Beach, posted on Town of Manchester Parks and Recreation Department webpage, accessed February 2015.

The Manchester-by-the-Sea Community Preservation Committee’s draft Community Preservation Plan is ready for public review.  The Plan identifies the CPC’s mission, guiding principles to provide a foundation for future CPC recommendations, as well as target fund allocation goals and goals that are specific to each CPA funding category.

The CPC’s proposed mission that is presented in the draft Plan for comment is to enhance the community’s unique identity as a small picturesque Cape Ann town and to recommend funding for initiatives that:

  • Promote community spirit, diversity, and vitality
  • Support continued vibrancy of downtown Manchester and enhance tourism opportunities related to the community’s historic resources and natural beauty
  • Protect at-risk natural resources
  • Enhance public enjoyment of natural and historic resources

(Note, the Manchester CPC voted to revise the draft plan on 8/5/15 to eliminate all proposed target allocation goals.  This post has been updated from a 7/29/15 version to reflect this change.)

You can learn more about JM Goldson’s work on this project, the upcoming public hearing, and download the draft Plan here.


More on Millenials' preferences: city or suburb

As we plan for the demographic revolution (as Barry Bluestone likes to put it) in Massachusetts and as we try to help communities adopt policies and remove barriers to fix an out-of-sync housing market, I’m always on the look out for perspectives on this issue.  Check out  Michael Lewyn’s post on June 1, 2015. His answer to the question “do Millenials opt for cities or suburbs?” is “yes.”


Where you grow up matters

I was a poor kid who grew up in a wealthy suburb of New Jersey, so when I heard this piece on NPR this morning it struck a personal note.  The Harvard economist’s findings reinforce the importance of creating affordable housing for families in our suburban, low-poverty communities.

Communities that have adopted the MA Community Preservation Act have a greater opportunity to create affordable homes for low-income families through local initiatives and housing assistance programs.  As I focus today on writing the first chapter of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership’s new “CPA & Affordable Housing” guidebook, the findings of these studies will be on my mind.

In two new studies, Harvard economist Raj Chetty and his colleagues found that where poor kids grow up has a huge effect on how much money they earn as adults.

In one study, families living in public housing were randomly selected to be eligible for housing vouchers that required them to move to low poverty neighborhoods. Kids whose families received the vouchers grew up to earn significantly more than those whose families remained in public housing.

In a second study, Chetty and his colleagues looked at data for millions of families who moved from one county to another. Based on this data, they were able to estimate how much where poor kids grow up affects their income as adults.

NPR’s Jacob Goldstein posts “Where poor kids grow up makes a huge difference.”


Manchester-by-the-Sea: community members develop priorities for using Community Preservation funds

The Manchester community considered two CPA budgeting scenarios:  1) maintain the current 3% CPA surcharge and 2) decrease surcharge to 1.5%.  Using JM Goldson’s “CPA Tetris” prioritization exercise, community members discussed and debated priorities in each of the four CPA spending categories: historic preservation, community housing, open space, and recreation.  Know what ranked high?  Community Housing!

Before we began the exercise, we learned a few interesting things about the audience through JM Goldson’s digital group polling method:

1) 67% of the workshop participants voted to adopt CPA in Manchester in 2005

2) 54% wanted to keep the CPA surcharge at the current 3% maximum

3) 72% did not have a high enough income to afford to buy a home priced a Manchester’s 2014 median sales price of $750,000!!

Community members working on JM Goldson's CPA Tetris exercise at the Manchester by the Sea workshop, April 13, 205


Share your ideas for the McElwain School Reuse Project

McElwain School, c. 1913

The Bridgewater Community Development Advisory Committee is seeking ideas about how to best reuse the old McElwain School.

Have an idea?  Click here to share your ideas and provide feedback on the project’s community brainstorming site!

More info including photos and the school’s history.


Easton Affordable Housing Trust Action Plan

The Easton Affordable Housing Trust adopted an updated Action Plan in December 2014. The new Plan describes the Trust’s goals, strategies, and multi-year budget to help the Trust address Easton’s primary housing needs including more affordable rental units, family housing, and options for older adults.

To help create the updated plan, the Trust solicited feedback from other town officials and interested members of the public at a community workshop, facilitated by JM Goldson. Based on this feedback and the Trust’s own assessment of priorities, the Trust identified ongoing initiatives to continue and new initiatives to launch, such as working with the Housing Authority to expand its stock of affordable housing for families.

Easton Action Plan FY16-20


West Bridgewater Adopts Community Preservation Plan

Last night, the West Bridgewater Community Preservation Committee (CPC) adopted a Community Preservation Plan to guide Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding allocations for FY16-20.  West Bridgewater, located in Southeastern MA, has less than 7,000 population and generates close to $200,000 annually in total CPA revenue.

Working with JM Goldson, the CPC developed a plan that identifies active recreation and historic preservation as priority CPA areas for funding over the next 5 years.

West Bridgewater Community Preservation Plan FY16-20

West Bridgewater Community Workshop

W. Bridgewater Community Workshop June 2014

JM Goldson

Jennifer Goldson, owner of JM Goldson, facilitating W. Bridgewater Community Workshop

W. Bridgewater Community Workshop June 2014

W. Bridgewater residents participating in CPA Tetris exercise to develop priorities for the CPA Plan


Eastham's new Community Preservation Plan establishes allocation goals beyond minimums

This winter and spring, I had the pleasure of working with the Eastham Community Preservation Committee to develop a 5-year Community Preservation Plan that establishes clear priorities among and within each CPA funding category, allocation targets beyond the minimum 10% requirements, and project possibilities.   Eastham is a beautiful outer Cape community with stunning scenic views, significant coastal and natural resources, diverse historic resources, high interest in recreation, and an active local housing trust.

The Community Preservation Plan is highly customized to help guide the CPC’s deliberations and give clear guidance to potential applicants.  In addition to establishing guiding principles, allocation targets, and category goals, the plan details the Town’s past CPA allocations, debt commitments, and revenue projections.

Utilizing the interactive “CPA Tetris” group discussion method, developed by JM Goldson, to help the public visualize Eastham’s projected 5-year CPA budget, workshop participants prioritized dozens of project ideas covering the four CPA funding categories.  We also employed digital group polling to provide participants with an interactive education about Eastham’s CPA program and eligibility.  Based on the priorities established through this process, we also revamped the CPC’s application materials to reflect funding priorities.


Strong Interest in Walkable Mixed-Use Communities

Does your community provide the living options that people want? Do your development regulations even allow the type of community that people (consumers) want? Will your community continue to be a desirable place to live as consumer preferences change? This article by Joseph Molinaro, AICP, on the PlannersWeb describes a recent National Realtor’s survey that indicates a very strong demand for homes in walkable neighborhoods. Check it out.National Realtors Survey Indicates Strong Interest in Walkable Mixed-Use Neighborhoods