Since Barack Obama’s election, there have been frequent discussions about the state of inequality in the nation. Many have said that the landslide election of an African American raised by a single parent demonstrates that while racism and socioeconomic inequality stained America’s history, they are no longer a significant part of our society.
However, this should not cloud the truth about inequality in the Commonwealth today. Greater Boston remains one of the nation’s most segregated metropolitan areas. The bulk of Massachusetts’ people of color, regardless of income, reside in urban centers.
Massachusetts’ seven largest cities — Boston, Springfield, Worcester, Lowell, Brockton, New Bedford and Fall River — have only 20 percent of the state’s population, but house 41 percent of its people of color and 40 percent of residents living below the federal poverty line.
Multi-family housing that is accessible to low- and moderate-income households is nearly impossible to build under local land use regulations in a majority of the Commonwealth’s municipalities. In many areas, affordable housing shortages could be ameliorated with a zoning change that would increase the number of multi-family dwellings.
Income is partially to blame for the affordability disparity, but doesn’t completely explain it. Fair housing laws are also a key to the solution. Gov. Deval Patrick’s efforts to secure housing opportunities for low-income families, people of color and people with disabilities by properly enforcing the Fair Housing Act should be applauded.
Residents of both cities and suburbs must have housing choice for Massachusetts to truly overcome past inequalities. We must also allow residents the opportunity to choose from a variety of communities through expanded housing options for people of color and for a multitude of incomes.
The governor and Legislature should reform exclusionary land use laws that lead to unattainable housing for people of color and people of modest means in the coming legislative session. Municipal officials can also help solve this problem by welcoming families with children to their communities and supporting local initiatives to promote multi-family housing.
It will take a focused effort at the federal, state and local levels to bring about equality. Even a president that changed history can’t do it alone.