Representation in the Housing Process

Best Practices to Improve Racial Equity

June 15, 2022

On June 15, the Boston Foundation, CHAPA and Boston Medical Center welcomed a large online audience for the release of Representation in the Housing Process: Best Practices to Improve Racial Equity.. The report, from Boston University researchers Katherine Levine Einstein and Maxwell Palmer, highlights the disconnect between the traditional methods of developing and implementing housing policies and the needs and wants of the communities ostensibly for whom these policies are developed.

After a welcome from Keith Mahoney of the Boston Foundation, Dr. Thea James, the Vice President of Mission & Associate Chief Medical Officer at Boston Medical Center, and CHAPA Chief Executive Officer Rachel Heller set the tone for the event by highlighting both the critical need for housing equity and the challenges faced in many communities as they strive to expand housing availability, increase density and expand affordability.

Click here to watch the webinar

Those remarks set the tone for Katherine Levine Einstein, who presented the findings from the report – which examined both the failings of current systems to make space for a needed set of diverse voices to help shape housing policies and how communities might bring in those diverse viewpoints.

Einstein presented research that highlighted five areas of opportunity – including:

  • A lack of diversity on housing-related boards and commissions
  • Representational inequalities in political participation and public meetings
  • Processes that favor neighborhood opponents to new development over beneficiaries
  • Meeting and survey formats that don’t tap into the broadest range of voices
  • A lack of investment in time and resources to ensure surveys and other information reflect the full range of community feedback.

She also shared examples of two communities – Haverhill and Newton, who used a variety of strategies to expand the range of access and input into housing processes, which are spelled out in more detail in the report.

Following the presentation, the panel discussion turned to two of the people who shaped those strategies: Nevena Pilipović-Wengler, the Community Engagement Planner for Newton’s Department of Planning and Development, and State Rep. Andres X. Vargas of Haverhill, who helped shape community outreach on housing policies in that city. They were joined by David Harris, the former Managing Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice for a discussion moderated by Soni Gupta, The Boston Foundation’s Senior Director of Neighborhoods and Housing programs. The wide-ranging but all-too-brief discussion explored the nuts and bolts of Haverhill’s outreach and Newton’s extensive efforts to generate inputs and insights from often-overlooked voices in community planning.


Welcome & 
Opening Remarks

Keith MahoneyVice President of Communications & Public Affairs, The Boston Foundation

Presentation of the Report
Katherine Levine EinsteinAssociate Professor & Director of Undergraduate Studies, Dept. of Political Science, Boston University; Faculty Fellow, Initiative on Cities

Maxwell PalmerAssociate Professor. Dept. of Political Science, Boston University; Faculty Fellow, Initiative on Cities

Remarks on the MA Coalition for Racial Equity in Housing
Rachel Heller, CEO, Citizens’ Housing & Planning Association

Thea James, MD, Vice President of Mission & Associate Chief Medical Officer, Boston Medical Center; Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine

Discussion & Audience Q&A
Soni Gupta, Senior Director of Neighborhoods & Housing, The Boston Foundation (Moderator)

David HarrisFormer Managing Director (Retired), Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice

Nevena Pilipović-WenglerCommunity Engagement Planner, Department of Planning and Development, City of Newton

Andres X. VargasState Representative, 3rd Essex District, Commonwealth of Massachusetts