Statement on Boston’s Sheltered Market Program

BizGrow, Economic Justice

December 2, 2021

Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) commends Mayor Michelle Wu for this week’s launch of a sheltered market program aimed at creating a more inclusive city contract procurement process. While this concrete action so early in her mayoral term is encouraging, much more needs to be done to remedy the longstanding lack of diversity in the City’s contractors and suppliers.

The pilot program announced this week makes available up to six contracts for disadvantaged minority- and women-owned businesses in the goods, professional services, and support services industries through the first half of 2022. The City’s 2020 Disparity Study found a substantial disparity between the number of minority- and women-owned businesses available for contracts and the number of contracts they were actually awarded by the City. In response, LCR filed a federal civil rights complaint on behalf of minority-owned businesses, urging federal intervention to break down barriers that exclude businesses from the City’s contracting system.

“This is a step in the right direction, but more than six businesses need to be supported to even begin to level the playing field for minority-owned businesses seeking contracting opportunities with the City of Boston,” said Priya Lane, LCR | BizGrow Director. “We commend the Wu Administration on moving quickly to support small businesses, and hope this is a sign that the City is finally doing the right thing for these historically disadvantaged businesses, the engines that fuel our Commonwealth.” 

“We hope that this week’s announcement signals that the City will no longer resist calls to open up its exclusionary procurement system,” said Oren Sellstrom, LCR’s Litigation Director.  “In addition to further reforms, the City should seek an amicable resolution of the pending civil rights complaint rather than continuing to fight against the minority-owned business community on these critical issues.” 

LCR has long advocated for the City to adopt more aggressive measures to break down barriers to equal contracting opportunity. As Mayor Wu noted, similar sheltered market programs have had success in cities nationwide. LCR encourages the City to take the concrete steps that LCR and the minority-business community have long called for, in order to help close the City’s racial wealth gap. With this move towards equitable access to City contracts and through LCR’s support of small businesses, we hope to see the City’s wealth gap continue to close.