Addressing systemic racism and economic exclusion in housing zoning and policy have been a focus of our agency since our inception, as it has been for all who support affordable housing and housing equity. Our communities did not become segregated by accident, but by design. The good news is that we can change our systems to support more welcoming communities with housing opportunities for all. The Black Lives Matter protests that emerged after the death of George Floyd brought systemic racism to the forefront of the public conversation and inspired all of us to look for ways we can use momentum from this moment to inspire greater impact in our work.
This summer, Housing Assistance CEO Alisa Magnotta led a series of stakeholder conversations about how our agency could promote greater equality in housing.
We also held a Diversity of Housing Opportunity workshop for town officials in mid-August as part of our Cape Housing Institute Municipal Peer Group sessions. Over two dozen municipal officials and local leaders took part in the forum which featured presenters Dana LeWinter and Whitney Demetrius from the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association’s (CHAPA) Municipal Engagement Program as well as Town of Arlington Director of Planning and Community Development Jennifer Raitt and Housing Assistance Board Member Tara Wallace, a Cape Cod advocate for people of color and at-risk populations.
Over the course of two hours, the four covered a range of topics focused on diversity, including town-specific data on diversity of population; a review of zoning policies that have supported housing exclusion; and steps to breaking down obstacles to creating more equitable communities.
One way that CHAPA has tried to address discrimination in housing is through its Municipal Engagement Program. Its aim is to change the narrative of who shows up to public meetings in support of affordable housing initiatives and developments.
“There are some pros to making a community more welcoming, equitable and open,” said Demetrius. “We see success as actual housing production. What things did we do to get housing built? Was a town able to pass a zoning change in support of affordable housing? Success looks different in each community.”
To achieve that success on the Cape, Magnotta stressed the need for continuing the discussion as a way to move towards substantive zoning changes and housing policies that create more diverse communities.
“I was energized by the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests to link it back to what we know is true with our country’s housing policies oppressing people for generations,” Magnotta said. “Are there things we can do now to dismantle the systemic obstacles to people of color? I do feel there is hopefully something in our little region we can do to change single-family zoning to change the way we look at housing.”