Expanding Choice in Housing Opportunities (ECHO)

Statement from the Boston Housing Authority on our ECHO Pilot Program

 As a housing authority, we administer 12,000 federally-subsidized Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8), which provide rental subsidies across Massachusetts and the nation for poor and working families.  The vast majority of the BHA’s vouchers are used in Boston and it is our expectation that that will continue.  However there is evidence that our voucher-holder families who want to lease up outside of Boston are disproportionately unsuccessful at doing so — due to a host of factors, including discrimination, price, administrative burdens, and a lack of access to information about available units.  Under fair housing laws and regulations, we have a responsibility as a public housing authority to ‘affirmatively further fair housing,’ which means we must monitor patterns of voucher use and make an effort to address any indication that federal housing funds may be contributing to patterns of residential segregation.[1]  There have been, appropriately, urgent recurring calls to change and challenge such patterns nationwide.[2]  As a result, cities such as Baltimore, Dallas, and Chicago have successfully launched significant programs to support voucher-holder families in moving to a wider array of neighborhoods.[3]

In 2015, the Obama Administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a rule aimed at encouraging housing authorities to analyze their portfolios from a fair housing perspective.  As a part of our effort to affirmatively further fair housing in the City of Boston, the BHA collaborated with the City of Boston, housing advocates, community organizations and Boston residents on the city’s Assessment of Fair Housing. We took into consideration data showing that the BHA’s vouchers are intensely concentrated in a handful of census tracts, first-hand accounts of voucher-holders who have been unable to successfully move elsewhere, and mounting evidence that neighborhood choice can have significant positive lifetime effects for young children.[4]  While this Assessment is still in the works, it was clear that discrimination against Section 8 voucher-holders was a critical part of our local housing crisis and required an immediate response.
With that in mind, the BHA is launching its Expanding Choice in Housing Opportunities (ECHO) pilot program. ECHO is a voluntary program aimed at affirmatively furthering fair housing by providing technical assistance and information to BHA voucher-holders. Under the Fair Housing Act our voucher-holders should be able to live in any part of Massachusetts they choose and the mission of the ECHO program is to provide them with all the information and technical assistance they will need to make their own decisions. The BHA is also taking steps to insure that our voucher-holders receive Fair Housing training, so they will know their rights and protections under the Fair Housing Act, and what steps to take if they encounter any discriminatory behavior.
The BHA provides affordable housing for 22,500 families within the City of Boston itself through our public housing and voucher programs combined.  We have led the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in public housing revitalization in Boston in order to keep low-income families housed in our city.  We are committed to one-to-one replacement of each and every public housing unit that undergoes redevelopment, because we know how urgently that resource is needed and how important it is to keep families anchored in our Boston neighborhoods.  Within this broader context, the ECHO pilot is one small piece of our overall commitment to providing our families with a wide variety of safe, decent, affordable homes to live in throughout the city and region.


[1] For more historical background, see: Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law (New York: Liveright, 2017).  Relevant recommendations can be found at pp. 195-213.

[2] New York Times editorial of September 12, 2018.  See also: Boston Globe opinion column of December 26, 2017.

[3] “Mobility Works” resources from the Poverty & Race Research Action Council.

[4] Chetty & Hendren, 2015.

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