The Housing Segregation in Boston

Broadview Issue Description

Housing segregation is a discriminative practice of denying non-white groups equal access to housing. The non-white population is alienated in financing programs and access to information to deliberately deny them opportunities to own homes or get residential in selected areas. Housing segregation is perpetuated by the housing policies, immigration, and socioeconomic status. Housing segregation causes poverty and disparate living standards. Segregation is illegal and housing policies should focus on enhancing integration among different races.


Boston Description

Boston has one of the highest housing racial disparities in the United States. About seventy percent of the whites are homeowners. Only thirty percent of the blacks own a home in Boston. This is the second largest homeownership gap in the United States. Despite the vibrant policies made on housing, the homeownership gap is growing wider. The meager house ownership by blacks indicates that blacks have a lesser ability to pass wealth to their children compared to whites. This explains the large wealth gap that exists between the whites and the blacks. Though the passage of Fair Housing Act has reduced housing segregation, the full impact has not been realized due to lack of political goodwill.

Segregation in the Metropolitan Area

Housing in the metropolitan area is segregated on the basis of economic status whereby the blacks are concentrated in economically disadvantaged areas. The census data of 2010 indicated that the blacks were restricted to the limited area in the city. The predominantly black districts in Boston are characterized by deteriorating housing stock. The blacks have also spread to the Jamaica Plain, which also has deteriorating housing. The modest black families live in North Dorchester in single-family units. Black isolation is still rife in Boston city. The towns with a large number of blacks have highly concentrated and dense residential locations. An increase in the black population in a suburb is associated with deteriorating housing stock. Thus, it is associated with a decline in comfort.

Background of Residential Segregation

The segregation dates back to the eighteenth century when the slave trade was rife in Boston. The blacks comprised 2 percent of the entire Massachusetts population. The black population had risen to 3 percent by 1960. The small size of the black population indicated that residential segregation would vary from the south to the western metropolitan regions. The schools, jobs, amenities, and housing were meant exclusively for the white people.

Housing segregation can be traced to the migration trends in Boston.The blacks began migrating to Boston in 1965. At this time, Boston was not focused on establishing new housing units. Thus, the blacks had to be driven out of town. The local communities began to warning out the black families that had established residence in Boston. The community representatives would confront the black families that were believed to become public dependents and warned them to vacate the town.

The abolition of slavery saw massive deportation of the blacks from Boston. After the end of the deportation, the public began depriving the blacks of their housing. The blacks in Boston began experiencing problems of employment, education, and housing. The prejudice and discrimination were mostly perpetrated by the white population. Suburban homes were considered a reward for years of hard effort, hence, blacks were alienated from the good housing. In reality, the whites had settled in the suburban homes because of federal assistance and not an individual effort. The changing patterns of metropolitan development eliminated blacks from the suburban housing.

Housing segregation informed the actions of the civil rights movement. About 1963, the Civil Rights Commission identified that black Americans had unequal access to existing housing and there was a shortage of low-income housing. The commission identified that the government had denied some Americans equal opportunity for housing on the basis of race. President Kennedy passed the executive order of equal opportunity in housing in 1962. Federal and state policy and financial assistance promoted social services that excluded minority groups. Suburbs continued to expand with little development of minority housing.

Segregation persisted even after the passage of the executive order. By 1970, the housing gap between the incomes had become wide. Opportunities for education and employment moved further from the residential bases of the minorities. The absence of open housing for minorities widened. When the housing shortage called for innovative changes, the metropolitan area had developed suburbs so extensively and run out of space to develop housing for minorities. The economy had become sluggish, hurting housing production. Thus, housing became a monument of segregation in Boston.

Home Buying By People of Color

The homeownership segregation was partly influenced by the economic downturn. The blacks and Latinos had a higher likelihood to have purchased a house at a near peak market and were less likely to have equity that could cushion them against declining home values. Their property was also financed with high-risk mortgages. Therefore, the non-whites lost most of their housing in the subprime crisis.

Boston has a racially concentrated home ownership with non-whites geographically concentrated in few communities. The blacks and Hispanics have a high likelihood of living in high poverty area compared to whites of the same income. Though Boston has an increasing number of relatively high-income blacks and Hispanics, only a small number lives in suburban communities. Blacks and Latinos would mostly buy homes in communities largely perceived to represent a low opportunity. The most common home buying neighborhoods for blacks in Boston include Mattapan, Hyde Park and Roxbury. The Latinos buy homes in East Boston. The areas inhabited by Blacks and Latinos were mostly in the Boston Metro area and were attributed to lower incomes. The Asians buy homes in Dorchester and Allston-Brighton. The whites buy homes in South Boston. The areas inhabited by the Asians and Whites were associated with high incomes.

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Why the Issue Was Important to Boston

The housing segregation brought to the fore a range of underlying issues in Boston. It elicited the racial isolation that has bedeviled the unity of Boston for a long time. Racially exclusive housing patterns were manifested in the suburban rings of Boston. The whites monopolized and controlled almost all buildable land. They no longer considered the rights of the minority population.

The location of industries and amenities followed the segregation pattern and they do not offer services or employment to the racially segregated towns. Consequently, exclusion became entrenched in suburban employment opportunities. The racial segregation extended to the transport sector. There was a transportation service for the poor and the minorities and a separate service for the middle and upper-income classes. The suburban exclusion complicated the urban-suburban relationships.

The housing segregation also caused disparate access to suburban opportunities. It jeopardized the efforts for racial equality. Equal opportunity was far from getting achieved. The housing crisis in Boston became an impediment to minority participation. It served as one of the reasons behind postponement of racial equality.

Housing segregation caused resistance to minority inclusion and increased discriminatory acts. Many suburbanites embarked on denying the minorities participation in their communities. The minorities then formed local groups and civil rights movements to fight racial inequalities. The struggles of these movements made a significant impact in the history of Boston around the 1970s.

Tipping Point

Housing segregation informed the climax of the civil rights movements. The tipping point of the housing segregation occurred the day of the assassination of Martin Luther Jr. Protests exploded from tens of American cities. The anti-discrimination campaigns that were conducted by the civil rights groups were more pronounced after this murder. The injustice of racial inequality was brought out more clearly. The advocates of fair housing seized the opportunity and pushed through the Fair Housing Act. The Congress that had been reluctant for long pushed through the legislation.

The passage of the Fair Housing Act illegalized discrimination in the private and public housing markets. Fair housing agencies were created and empowered to investigate discrimination claims in the housing market. The law contemplated residential integration where the whites were expected to accept black neighbors. The blacks were also legally free to move to the areas in which they were previously treated with hostility. Though the desegregation did not happen expediently, the law made a significant transformation in the American housing system.


The tipping point was made successful by a group of people of participants in the civil rights movement and the legislators. The civil rights groups had been formed as early as 1950 by suburban communities that were concerned with the prevailing racial inequalities. They had been engaged in a range of activities including channeling funds to areas outside Boston to create awareness of the locals about the racial problems of Boston. They also mounted pressure on the people who perpetuated discrimination in housing sales and rentals. One of the most active group was the League of Women voters who established committees in all suburban committees to discuss problems of equal opportunity. Their actions pressured the Massachusetts court to pass the passage of the racial imbalance law.


The events leading to the tipping point involved cooperation from many individuals and organizations. Many groups were involved in sponsoring housing drives. Suburban and urban groups closely cooperated for the success of ending housing discrimination. The critical need for housing in Boston stimulated the energies of groups and fomented their willingness to cooperate. The civil rights groups focused on the local governments and local communities. The assassination of Martin Luther created an avenue for the outpouring of the concerns of the civil rights groups.

Intended Consequences

The passage of the Fair Housing Act had a significant impact on reducing the segregation that had occurred in America for decades. Though the outcomes were not enjoyed by the generation that fought the segregation, the generation that followed enjoyed greater freedom of movement and a wider choice of residence. The generation that entered into adulthood at around 1970 lived at a time when discrimination was forbidden by the law. The social norms were gradually evolving and dejure segregation was dying down. One of the major strides was the elimination of restrictive covenants that restricted homeowners from selling houses to blacks. The Fair Housing Act and the civil rights legislation had opened up opportunities for the ascendance of black Americans on social, economic and political fronts.

Though the ghetto lives persist among the black American families, some significant change has happened in America after the Fair Housing Act. About 72 percent of the black adults were raised by parents living in the ghetto a generation before 1970. However, it is only 29 percent of black households that have lived in ghetto consecutively since 1970. The statistics indicate that America has made some progress towards fighting housing segregation. Though a range of economic factors has impeded the full integration of white and black families in the same neighborhoods, the law gives Americans the right to residing in their place of choice. The slow progress cannot inform the conclusion that housing in America is the same as the situation before the passage of the Act. The legal backing of integration is a major milestone in fighting segregation and would cause tremendous changes in the housing trends of the future generation.

Unintended Consequences

Substantial progress might not be made in Boston housing segregation because of a set of policies currently implemented in the United States. The policies have limited the ascendancy of the blacks since the period of civil rights movement and maintained housing segregation. They would continue to maintain the status quo into the future.

The federal government has shown lack of willingness to enforce the Fair Housing Act. It has complicated the efforts of prosecuting the claims of discrimination as provided by the Fair Housing Act. The Whites continue to be accorded a more preferential treatment in the housing market. The discriminative actions occur in the full knowledge of the Department of Housing, indicating that racial discrimination may be state-sanctioned.

The federal programs continue to subsidize white suburbanization, leaving the blacks consolidated in the centralized public housing. The mortgages subsidized by the government continue to determine the risk of a loan based on ones racial neighborhood. Thus, the non-white population continues to be excluded from the government-backed mortgages.

The mass imprisonment and incarceration of blacks would also curtain efforts of the blacks to relocate from the segregated neighborhoods. Legislative actions make it easier to lock up young non-white men. When the young generation spends years in jail, they are separated from opportunities to acquire education and gain job experience. After the lapse of their jail terms, they return with fewer prospects if securing employment or starting businesses. They would return to the segregated neighborhoods. The clique of the disadvantaged and deprived population would remain in this abode together with their generations for many years.

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Impact on Boston

Housing segregation would continue impacting Boston for more than two coming decades. Though the Fair Housing Act was expected to move America towards equality, the dream would be far from being reached even in the next few decades. Race and neighborhoods proceed in a relationship of continuous inequality. A study of family trajectory over the past few decades indicates that racial inequality in housing remains to be persistent in Boston.

The legislation of the Fair Housing Act has not significantly allowed the children of the black families to advance out of the poorest neighborhoods. Since the situation has remained more than four decades, there is no indication that there would be a significant difference in the next two decades. The ghettos that existed in the civil rights era have been inherited to the children. The blacks continue to occupy the poor and segregated quarters of American neighborhoods. It is highly likely that the progeny of these families would also live in these segregated neighborhoods.

Segregation is exhibited by the disparity in wages between the whites and non-whites. The blacks continue to earn wages that are less than half of the national average. The families would not be expected to change during the next generation. Though the inequality that exists in the current generation may fade away, it would diminish so slowly to the effect it would not affect the housing pattern of the residents of Boston in the next two decades. If a majority of the black families earn wages half of the national average, the next generation may improve to three-quarters of the national average. This earning may not guarantee movement from the current segregated neighborhoods to suburbs. If income levels of the blacks increase at the current rate may be the sixth generation from now would afford income levels that are twenty percent higher than the national average. This is the level of income that can sustain life in suburbs. If a generation lasts for twenty years, the ascendance of a majority of black families from the current segregated housing to suburbs may take one century.


The housing segregation has made a significant impact in shaping todays Boston. It led to the enactment of the Fair Housing Act and other human rights activities associated with fighting unfair and discriminatory housing practices. The legal milestones illegalized discrimination of people on the basis of race when making housing decisions. The blacks were allowed to buy houses against the previous restrictions. However, the legislation would not make a significant impact in the next two decades if the current condition of lack of political goodwill persists. The government should eliminate the discriminatory federal programs to allow Boston overcome segregation in housing.

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