Breaking the cycle of poverty with affordable housing

Steering construction work to businesses owned by people of color

DURING BLACK HISTORY MONTH, we paused as a nation to reflect on and honor the role Black Americans have had in our country’s history. While this is essential, it is equally important that we look forward and implement strategies to break the cycle of poverty for Black Americans and all communities of color.

Massachusetts is fortunate that our new governor and the mayor of our largest city are making affordable housing a top priority. You can’t have a great neighborhood, a world-class city, or a highly competitive state if whole communities are priced out. Prioritizing the development of safer, more stable, and affordable housing and a path to home ownership for families of color is a good place to start. But diversity must go beyond those who inhabit these spaces. We have a responsibility to ensure that the benefits of investment in affordable housing also flow to the workers of color and the minority-business enterprises  in those communities.

It’s clear that affordable housing isn’t the only way to chip away at the racial wealth gap for people of color. However, these projects provide obvious opportunities for significant impact on families, minority businesses,  whole communities, and investors alike.

Community development financial institutions like Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, the private nonprofit I lead as CEO, are major financiers of affordable housing projects. As such, we must lead the way in embedding racial equity and inclusion into every aspect of community development.

Community development financial institutions and our development partners need to listen to feedback from minority-owned businesses and form strategic partnerships with construction companies owned by people of color and developers of color. We must eliminate barriers for minority business enterprises and people of color in construction and, when appropriate, be ready to provide technical assistance that enables them to participate in ways that have previously been out of reach. Without an intentional effort to include minority business enterprises in the response to the need for more affordable housing, the wealth generated by these projects will continue to flow to the large companies that have dominated the field for decades.

All participants in this industry must push ourselves and our business partners to make sure we’re doing the right work, at the right scale, and being held accountable for the outcomes. That means providing minority business enterprises and workers of color with greater opportunity to participate and access to real capital to shape the neighborhoods where they live, work, and play. We must be intentional in this work, approaching it differently than maybe we have, to ensure that we apply a racial equity lens to all projects and identify ways to enlist others in this effort.

Working together, all of us with a stake in affordable housing can strengthen minority business enterprises and build world-class cities one neighborhood at a time. That’s an outcome worth celebrating and for decades to come.

Moddie Turay is the CEO of the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, a private, non-profit financier in affordable housing and community development in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine.