Paving the way towards accessible, affordable housing

NESPA Winner: Localizing, 2023

The Cypress, Brookline High School, Brookline, MA


Brookline was the first community in the country to implement racially restrictive housing covenants, which effectively banned people of color from buying certain homes in Brookline and created segregated neighborhoods.

Brookline has a history of redlining and zoning for the purpose of exclusion. Zoning laws regulate what types of buildings can be built in different areas. Redlining is the practice of banks denying housing loans to people who live in neighborhoods of color (usually predominantly Black neighborhoods).

The areas of Brookline that have benefited most from redlining are now predominantly restricted to single-family zoning (one family per home), while the areas that were redlined tend to be apartments and mixed-use housing (containing both residential and commercial). Brookline’s zoning laws are shaped by this history; they restrict the amount and density of housing, artificially driving up housing prices and making it impossible for many to afford to live in the town. This disproportionately impacts renters and homeowners of color and exacerbates the racial wealth gap.

The housing crisis

X, a current student at the high school, moved to Brookline when she was five years old. Her family’s first apartment was a two-bedroom with little square footage. The laundry was in a molding basement, and the machines were often broken. There was a rat problem, which became so severe that her father duct-taped the fire exits of the apartment to keep them out.


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