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TBF Policy Update: Public Testimony in Support of An Act to end housing discrimination in the Commonwealth

Among the tools the Boston Foundation uses to support the work of our nonprofit partners and achieve our mission of “building and sustaining a vital, prosperous city and region, where justice and opportunity are extended to everyone” is advocacy for public policy. As part of that advocacy work, Boston Foundation representatives occasionally testify on Beacon Hill and elsewhere in support of local initiatives. Our occasional “TBF Policy Update” posts will share our work in public affairs, with updates, letters and relevant testimony.

In late July, Soni Gupta, Director of Neighborhoods and Housing testified to the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure in favor of two bills, H.428 “An Act to end housing discrimination in the Commonwealth” and H.358 “An Act promoting fairness in the rendering of dwelling accommodation services,” citing a 2020 report from the Foundation and the Housing Discrimination Testing Program at Suffolk University Law School that highlighted significant  discrimination based on race and income amongst renters in Greater Boston.

Good afternoon Chairwoman Moran, Chairman Chan, and members of the Committee

My name is Soni Gupta. I am here on behalf of the Boston Foundation to voice our support for H.428 ,“An Act to end housing discrimination in the Commonwealth” and H. 358 , “An Act promoting fairness in the rendering of dwelling accommodation services”

As the community foundation for Greater Boston for over 100 years, the Boston Foundation’s mission is to build and sustain a vital, prosperous city and region, where justice and opportunity are extended to everyone. 

A little over two years ago, we partnered with the Housing Discrimination Testing Program at Suffolk University Law School on the testing study that measured the level of race and income discrimination amongst households searching for rental housing in Greater Boston.  

The data in the study showed startlingly high levels of discrimination against individuals using housing vouchers and against Black people using vouchers. The study also showed that in the vast majority of cases, real estate professionals perpetuated the discrimination. We cannot stand by any more without taking action. 

The Boston Foundation’s research and civic leadership work has underscored the importance of a housing voucher for low and extremely low income households. Our multi-year health and housing initiative found that when families moved into stable housing, often with the help of a voucher, many of the adults in those families had lower rates of depression and anxiety, and the children had fewer visits to emergency departments and reported better health. Our work with partners in Massachusetts and nationally continually lifts up housing vouchers as a remarkable tool that has the power to stabilize households and has the potential to increase their assets and wealth over time. 

Across the country, though, just one in four low income households who are eligible for a section 8 voucher will be fortunate enough to receive one.  It is unconscionable for those few who are fortunate enough to receive a voucher to have their path to an affordable rental blocked by real estate brokers who are participate in illegal discrimination. 

These households who are denied access to homes may have to relinquish their voucher back to the administering agency and either face homelessness or return to their unstable and often unsafe housing situation. 

The legislation before you today addresses this devastating housing discrimination on two fronts: first, with enforcement actions against real estate brokers and salespeople who flout existing housing law. And second, with training requirements to ensure that brokers have the requisite knowledge of fair housing laws and practices. We believe that acting on both enforcement as well as training together will have the greatest impact and move us to an environment where voucher-holders, and Black voucher holders, can utilize this resource in the manner it was intended and live in homes and communities of their choice. 

Thank you.