In 1988, the Boston Branch NAACP imposed a class action lawsuit against the Boston Housing Authority for maintaining racially segregated public housing through the use of site-specific waiting lists. People of color were discouraged from applying for public housing in the predominately white neighborhoods of South Boston, Charlestown and East Boston. As a result of the lawsuit, the Boston Housing Authority was forced to integrate all of its white housing developments and to compensate those applicants who had been denied or discouraged by their practices. The BHA was also required to establish a half million dollar Community Benefit Fund to assist groups promoting fair housing efforts in Boston.
Despite the court’s decision, discrimination within the Boston public housing system continued to exist. Below is an excerpt of testimony from Nadine Cohen, an attorney who specializes in Fair Housing and founding board member of the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston, to the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal opportunity in September 2008:
“After people of color started moving into previously all white developments, they began to be targeted for racial harassment and violence by white tenants. Many of these incidents were harrowing: young African American children having firecrackers put in their jackets while their hands were held behind their backs; bricks and bottles being thrown through the windows of African American and Latino families; doors of families of color locked from the outside so people couldn’t escape; feces thrown on doors; racial graffiti and vandalism endemic and constant verbal and physical harassment of minority tenants.
The BHA failed to take appropriate actions to protect tenants of color or to evict the perpetrators. The Lawyers’ Committee brought 13 Jane Doe complaints at HUD, alleging that the minority tenants’ fair housing rights were being violated and they were made to live in a racially hostile environment. HUD issued its first ever systemic finding of discrimination against the BHA, and the case resulted in the BHA adopting a strong Civil Rights Protection Plan to ensure that tenants of color can live in public housing free from discrimination and racial harassment and violence.”
— Nadine Cohen (an attorney who specializes in Fair Housing and founding board member of the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston)