Bold action needed to close the racial homeownership gap

As housing prices soar, the need for elected officials to step up has never been greater

APRIL 11, 2022, marked 100 days since I became the executive director of a nonprofit organization that has become near and dear to me.

In 2004, my real estate agent suggested I take a first-time homebuyer class with the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance in Dorchester. I took her advice and it changed my life. My husband and I were able to buy a home in Mattapan with the help of MAHA and the mortgage program they had negotiated with banks. I became a volunteer, then an activist, later a board member, and now I am MAHA’s executive director.  

It has been quite a ride over the past 18 years but these 100 days have been a ride in an even faster vehicle. Home prices are rising quickly, already beyond the reach of so many aspiring first time homebuyers. Zillow tells me my home has risen in value over 22 percent in less than one year. Interest rates on a 30-year mortgage are over 5 percent now for the first time in years. 

American Rescue Plan Act dollars are here, but it hasn’t translated to huge new investments in creating affordable homeownership opportunities for the over 5,200 homebuyers we graduated from our programs during the pandemic. Yet. We are organizing those homebuyers to make sure their elected officials act.  

MAHA has been around for 37 years, and we have some big accomplishments. We have led numerous successful community campaigns, including the SoftSecond/ONE program, the nation’s longest running Community Reinvestment Act mortgage program, serving over 24,000 homebuyers, over half households of color. We also negotiated a groundbreaking education-based property insurance discount plan for homeowners; a first-in-the-nation matched savings program for first-generation homebuyers called STASH; and expanded state-level CRA coverage to independent mortgage companies. MAHA has established itself as the leading nonprofit in Massachusetts in reaching low-to-moderate-income homebuyers and homeowners, surpassing 41,000 graduates at the close of 2021. MAHA’s grassroots Home Buyers Union has developed a mobilization capacity of 1,000 or more and demonstrated that many times for rallies with elected officials and corporate executives. 

In 2008, MAHA opened the Sheridan-Hagins Homeownership Center, a home for MAHA’s operations and civic engagement efforts and then hosted the first Taste of Dorchester, our signature fundraising event now in its 14th year (we hope to see you there on April 28th!). Our staff and board are majority female and majority persons of color. We are strong.  

But we need to be bolder than we have ever contemplated before. Today’s environment demands it. Despite our successes, the racial homeownership gap in Massachusetts has not narrowed. A new generation of homebuyers risks forgoing its chance at homeownership altogether. Our young families struggle with high rents, student debt, and employers that don’t provide pensions.  

MAHA has endorsed the campaign from the Black Homeownership Collaborative to increase Black homeownership nationally by 3 million net new homeowners by 2030. We are joining Sen. Cory Booker’s call for Baby Bonds for the next generation and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley’s and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s push for cancellation of student debt. Our STASH program has been embraced by Congresswoman Maxine Waters and is included in the stalled Build Back Better legislation at the level of $10 billion, and MAHA is making a push to expand STASH statewide with dedicated funding from the Legislature. We are working with Mayor Wu on a historic investment in affordable homeownership in this year’s City of Boston budget.  

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These are the types of bold actions we will need on the city, state, and federal levels. When I was first named executive director, the Boston Globe featured me in its “Bold Types” column. I have the caricature that appeared in that column hanging in my office to remind me to be bold. MAHA will challenge others to join us in being bold. Bank CEOs. Mayors. Governors. Ways and Means chairs. Foundation leaders. All of us. Let’s raise and spend $1 billion for affordable homeownership this year as a down payment toward restoring faith in our ability to fix this intractable problem that Massachusetts has ignored for too long. Homebuyers need to have faith if they are to stay. Homebuyers of color are the future of home buying in this state…if only we have the boldness to act now.  

Symone Crawford is executive director of the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance.