The City of Boston took steps in December to address alleged discriminatory housing practices after the city council passed a landmark zoning amendment.

The measure, modeled after the Obama-era program Affirmative Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH), requires large-scale developers to analyze how their projects affect fair housing in the city.

Amendment to be added to city’s zoning code

Shortly after the city council vote, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BDPA) also approved AFFH requirements, inching one step closer to adding them to the city’s zoning code. Mayor Marty Walsh says the city will lead by example in combatting discriminatory housing practices.

Walsh calls the measure an aggressive policy to reverse housing practices that have excluded families of color from safe and affordable housing and opportunities to build generational wealth. He says developers must do more to fight displacement and create housing for everyone.

The origins of fair housing

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act (FHA) into law in 1968, outlawing discrimination based on color, race, national origin, disability, sex, family status and religion. President Barack Obama strengthened the FHA in 2015 by issuing the AFFH rule, which required cities to identify barriers to fair housing and develop a plan to address discriminatory practices.

However, the Trump administration delayed implementing the rule and eventually repealed it in 2019, dismantling its requirements. Despite those actions, Boston city agencies used the AFFH as a model for their own plan, which identifies more than 100 steps and over a dozen goals. One of them is amending the Boston Zoning Code.

Requirements for developers

When the measure goes into effect, developers must complete an AFFH assessment as well as an already-approved accessibility checklist. Both steps seek to ensure that a certain percentage of affordable housing units are included in new projects and measure the impacts to persons with disabilities. The Boston City Zoning Commission will hold a vote to adopt the amendment.