Desegregating Boston’s Public Housing

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Desegregating Boston’s Public Housing

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Title: Desegregating Boston’s Public Housing
Author: Lincoln, Matthew
Citation: Lincoln, Matthew. 2016. Desegregating Boston’s Public Housing. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
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Abstract: This study examines racial desegregation efforts made by the Boston Housing Authority during the 1970s and 1980s in order to identify policies that housing agencies in the United States can implement to desegregate tenant populations. Investigating desegregation at BHA offers a unique opportunity as it occurred almost simultaneously with the well-documented desegregation of the city’s public schools. Central to both is the question of how local agencies respond to mandates from the federal government that are vaguely described and severely underfunded. Further, when it comes to civil rights and racial segregation, is it enough for agencies to ensure equal access or should a more aggressive approach be taken? For BPS, the response was inaction to the point of forced intervention followed by intense protest. The response from BHA was much different. As documented in the BHA archives, the housing authority was in close contact with the federal government, as well as with tenants themselves. Although the process occurred in fits and starts, effective policy and funding control from the federal government ensured BHA’s attention, and formalized venues for conversation between BHA and its tenants ensured input in policy decisions. Ultimately, the agency was not able to entirely avoid the violence that plagued BPS desegregation or achieve the goal of total desegregation; but considering larger demographic trends and funding issues, the outcomes have to be considered as positive. Effective enforcement tools from the federal government and the formalized input from tenants are likely the key policy choices that made the difference.
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