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Report: In Boston, Black homeownership rate is nearly half of white

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. AP Photo/Bill Sikes

On average, Black households have about 23 percent of the wealth of a typical white household, down from 34.6 percent before the Great Recession, according to a new analysis by Zillow, an online real estate marketplace. Homeownership rates account for about 40 percent of that gap. 

“Numerous studies demonstrate that there’s a wealth gap between households of people of color and white households,” said Maureen Flynn, deputy director of Boston Home Center, a city government agency. “The main difference between these groups is homeownership because that’s where most people accumulate their wealth.”

Homeownership and wealth are intricately tied together, said Flynn, which is why one of Acting Mayor Janey’s biggest priorities is to increase homeownership rates in the city. 

The $3 trillion gap in wealth between Black and white households is exacerbated by the disparity in home values between Black-owned and white-owned homes, according to Zillow. The company’s analysis found that if the typical Black-owned home were worth the same as the typical white-owned home, Black wealth would more than double from $931 billion to $2.1 trillion.

“Housing will be a prominent factor determining the course of the racial wealth gap over the next decade,” Zillow economist Treh Manhertz said in a press release. “The issues caused by historic discrimination won’t be solved quickly, but addressing things like increasing access to credit, more equitable lending standards, and reducing exclusionary zoning could make buying more accessible and bring significant strides toward closing the wealth gap. In the most optimistic scenario, Black millennials could see housing equality in their retirement and finally pass on some real wealth to the next generation.”

Boston wealth gap similar to national trend

In Boston, the homeownership rate for Black households is 35.3 percent, which is 33.5 percentage points lower than the homeownership rates for white households. Nationwide, 42 percent of Black households own a home compared with 72 percent of white households. 

Black-owned homes in Boston are typically valued at $457,693, which is 17.1 percent lower than homes owned by white households. Zillow defines Boston as the Census statistical area, which stretches from Boston and Cambridge west to Newton and north into southern New Hampshire. Nationally, the value gap between homes owned by Black and white households is 18 percent. 

Initiatives to address the race gap in homeownership

Flynn said a working group of housing experts, people of color, low-to-moderate income people, immigrants, and first-generation home buyers met to investigate the barriers to homeownership in Boston. The challenges include high home prices, a lack of down payment funds, low credit scores, and student loan debt. 

“We expanded our ONE+ Boston mortgage program with an even lower interest rate and enhanced down payment assistance,” said Flynn. “We’re also working with the Department of Neighborhood Development to produce more affordable housing for rentals and homeownership.”

Approximately 70 percent of participants in the ONE+ Boston program are people of color, said Karen Rebaza, assistant director of home buyer services for Boston Home Center, who said six lenders are actively working on the homeownership mission with them.

“We’ve put our home buyer programs on steroids to increase purchasing power for people and to close the homeownership gap,” said Flynn. 

Every year Boston Home pays for about 1,600 people to take 10 to 12 hours of homeownership classes, said Rebaza. In addition, they are partnering with the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance to provide $5,000 grants to first-generation home buyers. Approximately 80 percent of participants in that program are people of color, said Rebaza. 

Programs like these and those that help people find affordable rental housing can close the homeownership gap by giving renters a chance to save for a home. 

“Fixing the racial wealth gap requires that we support renters, too, because renters are disproportionately people of color in our city,” said Denise Matthews-Turner, interim executive director of City Life/Vida Urbana, a grassroots community organization that strives to fight injustice and inequality by building working-class power. “This means both regulating rents and creating more affordable housing, especially by helping nonprofits acquire apartment buildings and remove them from the speculative market.” 

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