Metro, Newton

Newton Fair Housing Committee Talks Landlord Training, Affordable Homes Act in Meeting

The Newton Fair Housing Committee discussed fair housing training, the newly announced Affordable Homes Act, affordable housing data, and lottery data integration at its meeting Wednesday morning.

The committee consists of 11 members appointed by Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller who meet monthly to discuss housing affordability and availability in the City of Newton and advise the city on issues related to affordable and non-discriminatory housing.

“If I could manage getting everyone to understand that renters pay real estate taxes, I’d feel like I was accomplishing something right there,” Steven West, a Newton Fair Housing Committee member and former renter, said.

Committee Chair Esther Schlorholtz discussed the progress of the annual fair housing training by Suffolk Law School’s Housing Discrimination Testing Program, which provides training for Newton real estate agents, landlords, and tenants. 

“This is U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development–funded training,” Schlorholtz said. “We think there will be substantial interest in it, especially from tenants of the Newton Housing Authority and landlords of tenants there.”

Jini Fairley, the committee’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator, said unfair landlord behavior exists in Newton.

“They refuse reasonable accommodations, and they get away with it because it’s hard to bring them to justice,” Fairley said. “It’s not unique to New York City. The stories exist here.”

The committee also discussed the findings of a Case Western Reserve University study on Cambridge, Mass. residents’ experiences in their buildings and housing complexes. The study focused on residents living in inclusionary housing programs (IHP) and their experiences with bias.

“Forty percent of all renters and 41 percent of all owners in the affordable IHP—inclusionary housing program units—reported encountering bias or discrimination at least several times in the past year,” Schlorholtz said. “Race was seen as the primary cause of bias—also being an IHP participant or having a low-income level was seen as a trigger for bias.”

According to Schlorholtz, the study was the first of its kind, and the data produced allowed the committee to reflect on how the City of Newton approaches inclusion in affordable housing.

“As we’re growing in the numbers of units, to be sure that we’re not only building the housing but that the people who live there will feel welcomed and supported and not experience the bias that they might otherwise feel,” Schlorholtz said.

The group also discussed its methods for retrieving data from the fair housing lottery. The group has a subcommittee dedicated to the procurement and organization of this data in a spreadsheet, where its logs race, disability, and voucher status of lottery applicants.

“The fair housing analysis of performance is a key way for us to further our efforts to affirmatively further fair housing,” Schlorholtz said. “So, that is really important for us to have actual data to be able to evaluate.”

The committee discussed the implications of the $4 billion Affordable Homes Act, which Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey proposed in October. The bill would allocate funds to creating more affordable housing via investments in public housing production and preservation. The bill supports the construction of over 40,000 homes, according to an overview posted on the commonwealth’s website.

[This bill] will spur the creation, preservation, and modernization of nearly 70,000 housing units and gives communities the tools they need to enact local solutions to their housing challenges,” Healey said in a November press release.

Schlorholtz said that if the bill proceeds, it could generate great resources to help support those in need of affordable housing. 

“One of the things they’re proposing is to allow accessory dwelling units to be built by right in single-family zoning districts in all communities,” Schlorholtz said. “Another thing they’re proposing is establishing a local option real estate transfer fee of between 0.5 and 2 percent to be paid by the settler of properties on the portion of the sale over one million.”

November 5, 2023