Meris Bergquist: Amherst must advocate for Echo Village tenants
To the editor:
I want to thank Clare Higgins for drawing our attention to the problem of segregation in western Massachusetts. As she pointed out, Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties are now ranked first in the country for Latino/white segregation and 22nd for black/white segregation. This is a profound civil rights issue. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education declared that separate is inherently unequal. Yet over 60 years later, census data show this alarming trend in segregation in our region.
This problem will not go away on its own. Cities and towns like Amherst and Northampton must take affirmative steps to promote integration. Amherst now has the opportunity to do so by preserving affordable housing at Echo Village, a community of 20 or so racially and economically diverse families.
After the sale of the property in January 2013, the new owner, local landlord James Cherewatti, took immediate action to evict these families.
If Amherst fails to stop the displacement at Echo Village, it will become a more homogeneous town — richer, whiter and even less affordable. And because housing determines access to opportunity, another result will be greater inequality of access to health care, employment, education and transportation regionally.
Amherst has the clear legal and moral obligation to take immediate steps to prevent the displacement of Echo Village families. In addition to town policy prioritizing affordable housing, federal fair housing law requires Amherst to take positive steps to promote integration because it receives Community Development Block Grant funds. I urge Amherst to comply with the letter and spirit of these laws. Amherst should vigorously advocate for Echo Village tenants, and call on the owner to impose a moratorium on evictions at Echo Village until the town can develop a plan to maintain affordability.
Meris Bergquist is executive director of the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center.