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Roxbury residents weigh in on housing barriers

Equity is in focus as city prepares its Assessment of Fair Housing report

Jule Pattison-Gordon | 7/27/2017, 6 a.m.

Boston’s racial segregation across neighborhoods is no secret, and in a series of meetings around the city this summer, officials want to find out if and how policies and practices around housing are keeping residents divided into enclaves and what impact this has on quality of life.

The Boston branch of the NAACP and the Roxbury Neighborhood Council, in conjunction with the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development, held one such meeting at the Dudley library branch last week.

“Where you live has an impact on a lot of other opportunities that you have,” said Bob Terrell of the Roxbury Neighborhood Council, opening the meeting. He cited such factors as access to quality schools, employment, transportation access, environmentally-healthy neighborhoods and exposure to poverty.

“Living in an area that has a high poverty rate is considered in itself a disadvantage,” he said. He noted that in Boston, high concentrations of poverty and high concentrations of residents of color tend to align.

On the Web

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing survey: bit.ly/AFFHsurvey-english

For more information, visit: www.boston.gov/departments/neighborhood-development/assessment-fair-housing

The meeting come as the city develops its Assessment of Fair Housing report, due soon to the federal government. Cities that seek to receive federal Housing and Urban Development dollars must demonstrate that they are working to serve all residents equitably, and are guided to establish locally-specific goals. This goal-setting includes creating plans for overcoming opportunity and housing choice barriers and promoting inclusive, integrated communities. The plans should be actionable during the next five years.

Resident feedback to help refine and shape the Assessment of Fair Housing plan is due by July 27. The city’s second draft of the plan will be released to the public on August 8. The AFH final draft is due to HUD on October 4.

Dudley speaks

About 15 to 20 people, including the moderators and organization representatives, were present at the Dudley Square meeting. During a small-group discussion, several attendees said one barrier to meeting housing needs is the prevalence of tenant credit score requirements set too high for low-income would-be renters to meet. On a neighborhood-wide level, several Roxbury residents said they face the burdens of limited access to city services and healthy food.

Landlord-tenant relations

Kimberly Lyle, a Roxbury resident, said her mother and sister frequently face landlords who will not take their Section 8 vouchers. Also attending was Pam Goncalves, who works at a homeless shelter as well as at Project Place, an organization aimed at helping individuals leave homelessness and unemployment. Goncalves said high credit score requirements often put housing out of reach of the formerly homeless and of those exiting rehab programs. She said she sees cases of women remaining in domestic violence situations and people staying at shelters for two years because they cannot find a landlord who will accept them.

Still, attendees said also that they understand the other side. Goncalves was once a landlord and found that some — not all — of her Section 8 tenants were unruly and created expensive property damage, with repair expenses coming out of her pocket. Given that experience, she said she can see why some landlords choose steep credit score cutoffs that block all low-income tenants, rather than take the risk. Denisha McDonald of the Boston branch of the NAACP added that she is aware of landlords who keep properties vacant rather than take a risk on tenants.