Black Lives Matter sign over a heart on Cape Cod

As an individual and an organizational leader, I stand with those protesting the death of George Floyd and so many other Black and Brown Americans unjustly and violently killed by people and a system that should be protecting all of us.

I am also heartened by the numbers of people showing up to protests and showing support for protesters around the Cape. Our community is not always known for its diversity, but I have seen so many examples at work and in my personal life of people who know we can do better and must do better.

Our country is in a tough place right now. Our black and brown friends, neighbors, colleagues, and loved ones are standing up, again, for fairness and justice that they already should be receiving as American citizens. People are hurting and many of us are looking for ways to help change the systemic racism that creates the crises we face today. We can all help from wherever we are.

We can and should support those fighting against racial injustice in our law enforcement system. But we also need to look at all the places where we interact with and have opportunity to influence other racially unjust social and economic systems.

For me, as leader of Housing Assistance, that is housing. My staff and I are looking at ourselves as individuals, teams, and an agency to see how we can better embody the value of racial equity. We are also looking at how we can better promote racial equity in our programs, partnerships, and advocacy.

The fight for racial equity is not a new fight for us in housing. For years, we have seen how systemic racism in housing, such as exclusionary zoning and discriminatory lending practices, has stifled equality and economic opportunity for people of color and the economically disadvantaged. The lack of racial equity undermines our communities as a whole. There is a path forward.

For most people a home is their largest asset. It contributes to their personal safety, security, and stability. It provides them privileges only offered to homeowners like tax benefits, building equity, and often higher quality public education for their children. Homeownership also provides the opportunity to pass a valuable asset, with its appreciation, on to their children. Homeownership is the first step to wealth accumulation for most families in America.

However, people of color experience many more obstacles to homeownership than white people. The zoning that rules our towns today is the same that was originated to keep black people out of certain neighborhoods when the regulations were created. These ongoing practices have contributed to the generational poverty that is prevalent in black communities still today. It’s our casual acceptance of these regulations that reinforces the structural inequities and systemic racism crippling our country.

We need not look outside our beloved region to see how this inequity has played out over hundreds of years. The Wampanoag nation today still struggles to regain land ownership and a way of life that was taken from them.

Now is the time for real lasting change. The one within our reach, that will have the lasting impact, is to simply change our zoning to allow greater housing diversity and more opportunities for people to purchase starter homes.

Our housing stock is more than 82% single-family homes on large lots, which are not affordable to many people who live and work in our region. The zoning in our villages make it nearly impossible for anyone economically disadvantaged to buy or rent a home here. Single-family zoning and gentrification are the practices that perpetuate the notion that only people with money are welcome here. If that is not true, then let’s change our zoning to reflect our values.

Protest today, but stay involved.

Lasting change comes with incremental steps forward. Encourage – no demand – your select board and planning board to revisit zoning bylaws to see where we can right the wrongs that we have institutionalized

And, the next time there is a housing development coming up for a vote in your town, go to the meeting and say yes. We can be more hospitable in our communities and make different decisions to positively impact the next generation of Cape Codders. Now is our time to do better.

– Alisa Magnotta