Campus & Community

Report: Despite Some Progress, Segregation Persists in Boston Area

3 min read

Although more African-Americans and Hispanics are buying homes in municipalities surrounding Boston, these buyers are concentrated in a small number of communities and are thus segregated from white homeowners, according to a new study released by the Kennedy School of Government and the Harvard Civil Rights Project.

Segregation in the Boston Metropolitan Area at the End of the 20th Century – a report to the Civil Rights Project by Kennedy School Lecturer Guy Stuart – finds that despite the progress disadvantaged minorities have made in achieving homeownership outside of Boston, there is a danger that the benefits of such ownership may not accrue to them because of racial and ethnic segregation. In particular, the report raises concerns about the emergence of highly segregated schools across the metropolitan area. In addition, income segregation provides evidence of the persistence of a patchwork of “have” and “have-not” communities outside of Boston that affect the opportunities available to lower-income families of all races and ethnicities.

The report found that in the Boston metropolitan area more than 40 percent of African-American home buyers, over 60 percent of Hispanic home buyers, and 90 percent of white home buyers bought homes in cities and towns outside of Boston in the period 1993 to 1998. Almost one half of the purchases made by African-American and Hispanic home buyers outside of Boston were concentrated in seven of 126 communities. To achieve racial and ethnic integration, more than 50 percent of minority home buyers would have had to have bought a home in a different city or town.

To achieve income integration, almost 50 percent of low-income buyers would have had to have bought a home in a different city or town. In the city of Boston, the market share of buyers earning more than the metropolitan area median income has increased from 40 percent to 50 percent.

But the news is not all bad. High-income, white communities have not excluded all minority and low-income home buyers. The presence of these home buyers throughout the metropolitan area is a fact of life. The state, local governments, and the real estate industry can provide the leadership necessary to ensure that patterns of segregation do not become entrenched in the first decade of this new century.

Gary Orfield, professor of education and social policy, and co-director of the Civil Rights Project, commented, “These findings are ominous in a period when many state and local leaders assume that racial problems have been solved and civil rights policies are no longer needed. As Boston ends school desegregation, the University of Massachusetts ends affirmative action admissions policies, and jobs move further away from minority communities, the consequences of residential segregation escalate.”

The report is based on Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data and census data. The HMDA data provide information about the race, ethnicity, income, and census tract location of nearly all home purchases involving a mortgage loan across the nation. The report covers the Boston Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area. The data are drawn from the years 1993 through 1998. The full report will be posted on the Web at