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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, May 26, 2024

Tufts faculty member appointed executive director of Boston Office of Fair Housing and Policy

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Boston's downtown area is pictured on Feb. 1.

Robert Terrell, a Tufts faculty member, has been appointed the new executive director of Boston’s Office of Fair Housing and Equity. Terrell, a part-time lecturer in the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, officially began his role on Jan. 3.

Terrell comes to the role with prior experience in housing equity and fairness in housing resources in Boston neighborhoods. He previously served as the fair housing officer at the Boston Housing Authority and as the executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston. Further back in Terrell’s career, he spent five years working in Boston City Hall.

“[For] three of those years, I worked at the [Fair Housing] Commission as the manager of their affirmative marketing program,” Terrell said. “I was also given the assignment of getting their substantial equivalency legislation through the city council and through the legislature. That would allow the Commission to exercise the same powers and remedies that [the Department of Housing and Urban Development] does.”

Penn Loh, a senior lecturer and director of the Master of Public Policy Program and Community Practice at Tufts, spoke on Terrell’s past advocacy. 

“When I met [Terrell], he was … leading a community coalition that was trying to get a return of a rapid transit line in Roxbury,” Loh said. “He’s led nonprofit organizations. He has [also] been a city council candidate. … The work he’s doing in the City of Boston now is really not a change from anything he has been doing for the last few decades.”

During his first month in office, Terrell began organizing the office’s budget and hiring new workers.

“Our [new] budget, making some changes in terms of what some of our staff do and also adding some new positions to the commission staff are all designed to strengthen the work in carrying out [its] mission,” Terrell said.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu signed an executive order in January 2022 that instructed all city departments to assist in the implementation of a fair housing assessment; Terrell said he and his colleagues from the Community Advisory Committee worked on this order for nearly six years.

“Any time you take money from HUD, one of the things you have to promise is that you will uphold the Fair Housing Act and you will use those funds in a way to create more inclusive communities and to fight discrimination and segregation in our housing market,” Terrell said. “We made sure that the Office of Fair Housing and Equity would be the city agency that would monitor and oversee the implementation of that assessment of fair housing.”

Terrell highlighted what he calls a “symbiotic relationship” between his jobs at Tufts and at City Hall.

“The dialogue and the conversations that we have within [the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning] at Tufts, I find very helpful in a lot of the policy discussions I have in City Hall,” Terrell said. “On the flip side, the discussions I have about policy in City Hall bring real time information to the students in my class.”

On Terrell’s qualifications, Julian Agyeman, ​​a professor of urban and Environmental policy and planning and the Fletcher Professor of Rhetoric and Debate, said that “no one has the experience in the neighborhoods and in policy work that Bob Terrell has on housing equity.” 

“Bob … is passionate about community-driven change in some of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods and has worked in a range of nonprofits and governmental roles in addition to his lecturing at Tufts,” Agyeman said. “He is supremely qualified on multiple levels to be able to develop effective, just and equitable housing policies.”

As part of the Equity and Inclusion Cabinet, the Office of Fair Housing and Equity works to combat discrimination and ensure equitable access to Boston housing. Terrell plans to extend his work into the Tufts community, urging faculty and students to be aware of housing inequalities and fight for the right to fair housing.

“If [you] know of any person … [who has] encountered housing discrimination in the city of Boston, … please refer them to our office,” Terrell said. “All too often, when people file a fair housing complaint, there’s another six or seven people who have not. They don’t do so either because they fear retaliation or they don’t have the time, or they are just disgusted or they don’t know their rights under the law. … We want to spread the word as much as possible.”