Everyone knows that housing segregation exists in the Boston area, but few knew the extent to which Negroes were denied homes here, until the publication last week of a report by the Massachusetts Advisory Committee to the U. S. Civil Rights Commission. What is so surprising about this neighborhood segregation is that it exists in spite of the Massachusetts Fair Housing Act, passed in 1957 and amended in 1963, in spite of its regulatory Commission Against Discrimination, and in spite of voluntary Fair Housing Committees in many cities and towns.
The Negro ghetto in Boston--the "black boomerang" in Roxbury--continues to grow, and today a significantly larger part of the Comfonwealth's Negro citizens live in this area than did a dozen years ago. These people must spend more money for poorer housing than other citizens and their children attend inferior schools because the Boston School Committee refuses to acknowledge the existence of de facto segregation.
This is not to say that the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has accomplished nothing. It has enabled some Negroes to move to suburbs and outer parts of the city, where they otherwise could not have lived. And a law passed by the legislature last spring extended coverage of the Fair Housing Act to all dwellings except two-family houses in which the owner occupies one unit. But if the MCAD is to ensure an open housing market, it needs several additional powers enumerated in the Committee's report:
* the power to order complaints compensated for losses incurred during litigation
* the power to order firms or individuals not to discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, or national origin
* the power to make agreements signed by firms or individuals enforceable in court
* the power to require owners of multiple dwelling to register available apartments with the MCAD.
But these measures can only end housing segregation to a limited degree. Most Negroes cannot afford to move to the suburbs. These people are not about to move into areas now inhabited by whites, unless such areas are adjacent to the ghetto. No one has yet found a way to get whites to move into an all-Negro neighborhood.
The recommendations in the Committee's report deal, necessarily, only with the pernicious effects of housing segregation. To improve the condition of buildings in the ghetto, the legislature might pass a law (like one in New York) enabling the city to collect rents on sub-standard dwellings and to use the money for correction of building code violations. Among welcome, if unlikely, actions governmental bodies might take are the building of more urban renewal projects for low income families in Roxbury and the redrawing of school lines to end de facto segregation in education.
None of these actions constitutes a solution of the problems created by housing segregation among lower-income Negroes; at best, each of them can only improve conditions in the ghetto. To solve the problems of neighborhood segregation in Boston, as in other Northern cities, public officials and private citizens must use all their abilities, resources and, most important, imagination.