Boston, We Have a Wealth-Gap Problem

Following the death of George Floyd, Lee Pelton’s essay “America Is on Fire” went viral. But for his latest mission—fixing the city’s shameful racial wealth gap—the recently installed president of the Boston Foundation knows it’ll take a lot more than words.

Photo by Tony Luong

Lee Pelton cannot see. It’s a Friday morning in early October, and harsh stage lighting is temporarily blinding the Boston Foundation president and CEO during a panel discussion at the Mass Black Expo. Hundreds of entrepreneurs, investors, nonprofit leaders, and public officials have descended on the carpeted sprawl of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in the Seaport, many of whom are packed inside this particular conference room to hear Pelton speak directly to the weekend’s theme, “Building Black Wealth in the Commonwealth.”

Squinting through tortoiseshell specs, Pelton can only guess at the number of people before him. He feels a bit awkward. It’s not stage fright; the former Emerson College president is a natural orator. (Even former Governor Charlie Baker once bemoaned having to follow him during a speaking engagement.) But Pelton likes to play off the energy and reactions of his audience—an audience that, at this moment, is basically invisible to him. What’s more, the whole event is behind schedule. The opening ceremony, with speeches from Governor Maura Healey, Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll, and Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA) president and CEO Nicole Obi, ran long.

Still, Pelton doesn’t let himself get flustered. After all, he has important things to talk about. “I’m cool,” Pelton tells the crowd, referring to the stage lights. The soft-spoken, stylish, and erudite fixture of Boston society couldn’t have said it any more succinctly: Lee Pelton is cool.

Make no mistake, though: Pelton’s elegant duds and outward ease belie the fire that burns beneath his exterior. It is a fire of indignation over racial inequities—Boston’s most pressing and intractable issue—that is fueling him to refocus his own priorities.

After speeding through a sweeping overview of Black Boston’s history, from the transatlantic slave trade to its current cultural mosaic, and answering questions about the evolution of Black wealth and economic disparities in Boston, he launches into what has become his life’s focus since leaving higher education: closing the racial wealth gap.

By now, the numbers are infamous but bear repeating: In 2015, a Federal Reserve Bank of Boston report called “The Color of Wealth in Boston” found that the median net worth of a non-immigrant Black family in this city was $8, compared to $247,500 for a white family. The sample size in the report was quite small—fewer than 100 Black families were surveyed—but the impact of the study across Boston was enormous, spurring many efforts to address racial inequities.

Some people, including attendees at the convention, have emphasized increasing access to business capital and employment to fix the problem. But Pelton is here today to deliver a different message. “Wealth is not income,” he tells the audience to a mix of affirmative murmurs and rapt silence. “Wealth is accumulated assets. So when we talk about the wealth gap, we’re not talking about the income gap.”

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston report came to a similar conclusion, citing research that found racial differences in income and racial differences in wealth are only weakly correlated. So when Pelton took over the helm of Boston’s oldest and arguably most august philanthropic foundation, he urged it to focus not on income, but on the biggest contributor to wealth: real estate.

Homeownership has been one of the greatest sources of wealth—and generational wealth—accumulation in this country. But research has shown that for decades, Black Americans were unable to access this opportunity due to codified lending discrimination and racially exclusionary zoning practices. The legacy? As of 2021, in Greater Boston, 70 percent of white households, compared to 37 percent of Black households, 31 percent of Hispanic households, and 57 percent of Asian households, own homes, according to a research brief published in November 2022 by the foundation’s research center, Boston Indicators. Even if there were no racial discrimination in the housing market today, the effects of past government policies on Black Americans’ ability to buy homes and accumulate wealth through them would continue to fuel the racial gap in wealth and homeownership.

To increase those numbers, at Pelton’s direction, the Boston Foundation has quietly summoned dozens of business, government, and nonprofit leaders to form the Greater Boston Partnership to Close the Racial Wealth Gap. The coalition is hardly the first group to try to solve this problem. But with everyone from Obi to Boston Chief of Housing Sheila Dillon to the top brass of local and national banks in the fold, the nascent group is the most expansive and influential effort yet aimed at addressing the gap. “It’s new in the sense that we have more people at the table and more decision makers who can, I would hope, make change,” says Symone Crawford, the executive director of the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance and a member of the partnership.

The foundation’s coalition has perhaps learned from the hard lessons of the past, appealing not to the state’s better angels but to its wallet. During his convention panel, Pelton mentioned a Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation finding from 2021 that closing the wealth gap in Black and Hispanic communities would generate $25 billion for the Massachusetts economy over a five-year span, the equivalent of creating 100,000 jobs. “This is not a zero-sum game,” Pelton told the audience. “If we close the racial wealth gap, it lifts all boats. We all prosper.”

As president of Emerson College, Lee Pelton was deeply involved in the city of Boston and was a trusted confidant of then Mayor Marty Walsh, pictured right. / Photo by Angela Rowlings/MediaNewsGroup/Boston Herald

A bottom-line approach may sound like a swerve for someone who, until two years ago, worked in the ivory tower. But Pelton wasn’t your average college president. At Emerson, he embedded himself in the city’s business and political firmament, becoming a trusted confidant to former Mayor Marty Walsh and current and former Chamber of Commerce presidents Jim Rooney and Paul Guzzi, among many others. “There are lots of things that happen in Boston that Lee has a finger in very quietly and behind-the-scenes,” says Colette Phillips, the president and CEO of Colette Phillips Communications and one of the many seekers of Pelton’s counsel.

Pelton’s influence officially moved from the hushed backchannels of Boston’s power elite to the public sphere when a letter—which famously and passionately stated that America wason fire”—that he’d written after George Floyd’s murder went viral. In it, he revealed a powerful side of himself few people had previously seen, sharing painful personal confrontations with racism and the long-simmering frustrations he felt deep within. Through op-eds and TV appearances, Pelton soon became nothing short of the city’s moral authority. And when he left Emerson for the Boston Foundation, he had both universal respect and a perch from which to flex that social capital.

Now, past the age when many retire, Pelton has staked out perhaps his most ambitious mission yet—one that others in this town have taken on over the past few decades and failed to achieve. Still, Pelton seems undaunted. “Not everything that is faced can be changed,” he says, quoting James Baldwin, “but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Recently, Pelton has staked out perhaps his most ambitious mission yet—one that others in this town have taken on over the past few decades and failed to achieve. / Photo by Tony Luong

It can be easy to forget that Pelton left the world of higher ed just two years ago. This feels particularly true on a fall morning inside “Lee’s Library” at the Boston Foundation’s Back Bay offices, where Pelton’s crisp blue suit, Allbirds, and a gray 5 o’clock shadow evoke GQ more than campus-casual. But as he sits in a rocking chair emblazoned with Emerson College’s seal and speaks in the deliberate, contemplative cadence of someone who could seemingly give office hours in perpetuity, you could be forgiven for imagining him in a corduroy jacket with elbow patches. Even in his new digs, the man who stopped teaching long ago is as professorial as ever.

Pelton’s path to a seat in Boston’s upper echelon of influence began in 1970s Kansas. After graduating from Wichita State University, where he studied 19th-century British literature, he announced to his father that he wanted to go to graduate school in Boston to study poetry. “You’re going to Boston?” he recalls his father saying. “You know that’s the most racist city in America.”

It wasn’t as though the family hadn’t seen racism in their backyard. Situated in a Black enclave on the outskirts of Wichita, their home didn’t have indoor plumbing, unlike the homes in the city’s predominantly white neighborhoods, until Pelton was six and a city sewer line arrived belatedly. Later, the gas station his father took over after years of working at a meat-packing plant was expropriated. “There was a major part of the highway that, as it always does, came through the Black neighborhood and took out his service station,” Lee says with a rueful chuckle, alluding to the widespread and sometimes deliberate construction of thoroughfares in communities of color during the mid-20th century, which led to displacement and disinvestment. Both experiences in his youth, he would come to understand, represented examples of systemic racism, the implicit and explicit discrimination historically baked into policies and institutions across the country.

Pelton also had an early brush with housing discrimination in Kansas—and fought back. While in college in Wichita, a landlord told him her house wasn’t available to rent. Suspicious, Pelton asked a white classmate to inquire. “He got a very different response,” remembers Pelton, who ultimately found another place to live. Even at 19 years old, he wasn’t surprised by the incident, but the injustice still unsettled him. He filed a complaint, which was successful; the landlord was fined.

Still, to the Pelton family, Boston’s racism was notorious: The city, after all, had received national attention for its racist pushback to busing, a federally mandated effort to desegregate schools that began in 1974. By then, decades of lending discrimination in the housing market had already embedded racial divisions across the city.

None of that, however, was enough to deter Pelton from studying at Harvard University. He earned a doctorate in English and American Literature in 1983 and taught for a bit before deciding that he preferred to work in the institutional side of higher education. After stints as a dean at Colgate University and Dartmouth College, he assumed the top post at Willamette University in Oregon in 1998. Though he liked the Pacific Northwest, his time at Harvard convinced him that he was a New Englander by temperament, and he sought a path back East.

In 2011, Pelton landed right on Boston Common, becoming president of Emerson College after the search committee unanimously voted him the best candidate for the position. Pelton quickly oversaw the revitalization and expansion of the small college’s footprint: About a third of his job, he estimates, entailed work outside of the school and in the city itself. “Institutions of higher education can be somewhat navel-watchers, and they stay in their realm,” says Colette Phillips, who was a member of the search committee. “Lee brought a whole different lens to the job.”

Bostonians took note. Prominent institutions, including the Boston Arts Academy Foundation, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Barr Foundation, and GBH, asked Pelton to sit on their boards. Yet it wasn’t until he wrote an unsparing moral missive to the Emerson community in the wake of George Floyd’s murder that Pelton’s stature rose, and his path out of higher education and into his current role as a civic leader began.

One night, days after George Floyd was murdered on a strip of asphalt under the knee of officer Derek Chauvin, Pelton stayed up until the small hours of the morning in his Beacon Hill college president’s residence, replaying the video repeatedly. On Saturday of that week, as he watched protests erupt across the nation, he felt he was still too angry to make a meaningful public statement. “I didn’t want to write a piece that was full of platitudes, and that would seem performative, because that’s what college presidents often do,” he recalls.

It didn’t help that he received emails from Emerson students who blamed him for not speaking up already. “Do you understand how difficult it must be for me to speak out on what happened in an authentic way?” he remembers telling one white student. Even talking about it now, he grimaces and raises his voice, his anguish apparent. “And then I said to him, ‘This is not my problem; this is your problem.’”

That premise became part of the letter. “What are you going to do?” he wrote, with “you” in bold type. Calling Floyd’s slaying a “legalized lynching,” he stated that “Black Americans are invisible to most of white America. We live in the shadows—even those of us who, like me, sit at the table of bounty.”

He also shared specific times he’d experienced racism, from getting spit on by a white parking-lot attendant to having cops draw guns on him mere feet from his house to being called the n-word everywhere he’s lived. News outlets, including this one, ran the letter in its entirety, which helped spread its reach to upward of an estimated 6 million people.

Afterward, Pelton started receiving national attention. “I could go to about any setting, and people I didn’t know would say, ‘Oh, I read that. That was important.’ It was just supposed to be a letter to my children, essentially, and to my community, but it became much more than that.”

Part of its viral power was its deviance from the rote institutional statements that surfaced amid Black Lives Matter protests. Still, Pelton wanted to accomplish more than simply authoring a resonant call to action that produced 15 minutes of viral fame. He wanted to tackle the biggest problem plaguing his adopted city—and he found the perfect place to pursue his grand vision.

Pelton saw the Boston Foundation as a place that could help him channel the fire within him into action. / Photo by Tony Luong

The classical Revival building at 75 Arlington Street is as old as the billion-dollar community foundation inside it that has dominated Boston’s philanthropic scene over the past century. In the nearly 110 years since it was founded, the Boston Foundation has helped build the city, backing everything from a burn unit at Mass General to the Boston Symphony Orchestra to aid tents during the pandemic—the 1918 one, that is. And yet as lengthy and wide as the charity’s civic reach has been, it has failed—like every other institution in Boston—to remedy the racial injustices of the city’s past and present.

Still, due to the Boston Foundation’s influence, Pelton saw it as a place that could help him channel the fire within him into action, given, he says, that its “civic leadership is unparalleled in the commonwealth.” So when longtime Boston Foundation president Paul Grogan announced in January 2020 that he was stepping down, Pelton saw an opportunity to start a new chapter of his career just a few blocks away from his perch at Emerson.

To many, it seemed to be a perfect fit. “Lee has been long engaged with the Greater Boston business community,” says Eastern Bank chair and CEO Bob Rivers. “He’s been a leading voice on issues of racial equity. He’s been a convener. So when he became the latest CEO of the Boston Foundation, it was a very logical fit since it plays so well to his experiences, interests, and his reputation.”

Pelton, too, felt like it was a natural move for him. “I’ve said, jokingly, that I’ve been in training all my life for this role, and it suits me perfectly. Because my impulse to be engaged in the larger society is represented in this position,” he says, before getting professorial again and quoting a dead dude, the late urban architect Daniel Burnham. “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized,” Pelton recites. “I live by that perspective.”

Pelton put his not-so-little plans into place after he assumed direction of the foundation in June 2021 and swiftly embedded equity at the center of its historically expansive mission, tired of seeing communities in Boston experience the cascading effects of financial instability. He compares it to Jenga: “You pull out one block, and it creates stress. You pull out another block; it creates more stress. You pull out too many; it creates trauma. And that’s what we’re finding in these communities. They don’t have the building blocks that they need for wealth and—I’m using it in a really Anglo-Saxon way—well-being.” Wealth, Pelton explains, is derived from the English “weal.” In other words, wealth isn’t just about money, but health. And the connection is real. A Boston Public Health Commission analysis this year found that the average life expectancy in a section of Roxbury, one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in the city, is 69 years, compared with 92 years in an area of the Back Bay, one of the city’s wealthiest areas.

Pelton knew that numerous nonprofits and government agencies were working to close the equity gap; the number of groups dedicated to helping others in Boston is part of why he loves the city. But something critical had been missing—something Pelton was uniquely poised to provide. All too often, the public and private sectors work in silos, former Governor Deval Patrick says. “If somebody’s not convening those conversations, they’re not going to happen.”

Pelton’s approach to solving this problem was to do what he does best: get people together. That meant forming a roundtable of representatives from different areas of the city, everyone from nonprofit leaders to mayoral cabinet members to bank CEOs, who would meet regularly to work on identifying ways to close the racial wealth gap. “Lee is able to speak with and engage, I think, just about every sector in this region,” Patrick says.

In fact, Pelton had already proven he could harness this skill to effect change. When former Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Murphy, the first woman in the state to hold a constitutional office, needed someone to take over management of the Wage Equity Now coalition in 2022, she turned to Pelton and the Boston Foundation. For years, the group’s effort to pass a law to help close the gender and racial wage gaps had fallen short in the legislature. Pelton recognized its importance and relevance to his mission. After he, communications vice president Keith Mahoney, and others at the foundation took the reins, the salary transparency bill finally passed both chambers this fall—a prime example of a coalition creating change. “It’s not bombastic leadership—like, ‘I’ve got the right way and come follow me.’ He has a presence to him that’s commanding because it is not loud,” Murphy says of Pelton. “He has a different style of leadership than many in Boston.”

At the same time, Pelton isn’t afraid of being resolute—such as when he made one critical choice about the foundation’s approach to closing the racial wealth gap. While Wage Equity Now and other nonprofits working on the issue are focused on income, and the foundation itself touts a business equity fund, Pelton narrowed this coalition’s focus solely to homeownership—“because homeownership, on average, represents the largest component of wealth for families and individuals,” he says.

Many agreed with Pelton’s circumscribed plan, including Ron O’Hanley, chairman and CEO of State Street Corporation and a member of the Boston Foundation’s Board of Trustees, who says the approach is likely “going to move the needle most quickly.” Meanwhile, Rivers said the focus of the new partnership distinguishes it from other broad-scale efforts to close the racial wealth gap. “We’re not trying to boil the ocean here,” Rivers says. “It’s addressing this one particular, fundamental aspect that drives racial wealth inequities.”

Pelton is more visionary than wonk, though; he isn’t steeped in housing policy and the political calculus required to change it. So when the Greater Boston Partnership to Close the Racial Wealth Gap first started meeting in late 2022, and its 40-plus members took turns sharing their expertise to help the group figure out where to even begin work on increasing homeownership in communities of color, Pelton listened.

It was par for the course for the soft-spoken leader, who has never been the loudest voice in meetings, O’Hanley notes—“more often than not, I seem to be struggling to hear him,” he says of Pelton’s quiet delivery. At the same time, Pelton’s open-minded style of discussion prevents discourse around a hot topic from becoming overheated. “He has a sort of Socratic way of asking questions, asking you why you think a certain way about something,” says Leigh Gaspar, a vice president and special assistant to Pelton at the foundation who followed him there from Emerson.

By fall, Pelton and company had made some headway. Between quarterly steering committee meetings, three workgroups would focus on three critical factors that can make homeownership more attainable in communities of color: increasing down-payment assistance, access to affordable mortgage products, and housing supply. The group would accomplish its goals by drafting policies, suggesting new programs, and conducting research.

On the research front, the foundation is working on addressing the wealth gap by measuring it again. Last year, the Boston Fed announced that it would be updating the infamous study from 2015 in partnership with the Barr Foundation, the Boston Foundation, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, and the Eastern Bank Foundation. The slew of media reports in the aftermath of its release often left out some important context—the study’s small sample size of just 71 non-immigrant Black families, for instance. It also was lost upon some who didn’t dig into the details of the report that the median net worth of Boston’s robust Black Caribbean community was a much higher—albeit still highly distressing—$12,000. Given the limitations in the original Fed study, the new three-year research project will aim to reach a much larger sample this time, perhaps thousands of families, to more rigorously examine the factors that contribute to wealth disparities across the state. The partnership will take the new data into consideration as it recommends ways to increase homeownership in communities of color.

When it comes to down-payment assistance, Pelton says he has an idea but wouldn’t yet share any specifics. Nor would he share any plans about what the partnership might do regarding philanthropy for mortgage assistance. As the group works out its concrete plans, there is some skepticism, even from within the foundation, about how much it can really accomplish.

Helming the Boston Foundation, Pelton has staked out a mission to close the city’s racial wealth gap. / Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

After the panel at the Mass Black Expo, the crowd Pelton couldn’t see through the harsh stage lighting comes at him. In fact, he can hardly make his way off the stage thanks to audience members swarming him. Michelle Brathwaite, who holds seminars on building Black wealth around the city, swoops in and asks for a selfie. “Just reach out to me,” he tells her. On his way out the door, he shares his email address with a group of Babson College students.

Courtney Brunson remembers similar exchanges when she sat on a panel with Pelton at last year’s Mass Black Expo. Greeting event planners and servers like he would the bankers and other power players on stage that day, Pelton displayed a level of humility that stuck with her. The former policy adviser at BECMA and president of Harvard’s Legal Aid Bureau had never been interested in working at an “institution on a hill”—a nonprofit at a remove from the needs and perspectives of the communities it was serving. But with an equity-focused Pelton at the helm of the Boston Foundation, Brunson saw an opportunity to make a difference. As the new director of the Greater Boston Partnership to Close the Racial Wealth Gap, Brunson’s job is, essentially, to help expedite Pelton’s mission and turn his vision into tangible change.

Making that happen will be no easy task. Down-payment dollars and mortgage products are critical but can only help if there’s something to buy. Due in part to zoning laws that prevent the construction of multi­family homes in certain neighborhoods, housing supply remains scant in many communities around the state, increasingly driving prices up and pushing younger generations out. Communities everywhere—including in predominantly white and wealthy suburbs—will have to do their part to increase construction of multi-family homes, experts say, to increase the housing stock.

Today’s sky-high interest rates don’t help, either. “The headwinds are just really, really strong right now,” says Clark Ziegler, an executive at the nonprofit Massachusetts Housing Partnership, which administers one of the state’s largest affordable mortgage loans, ONE Mortgage. “I wouldn’t call it an elephant in the room, but I think that’s the factor here that is impossible to ignore, right? It’s an environment that’s just not conducive to first-time homeownership.”

Of course, homeownership is still just one part of the problem. Research has shown that differences in retirement savings and marriage rates between Black and white people feed the racial wealth gap—even as they are also caused by it—which means that as ambitious as Pelton’s mission is, it may not move the needle enough. This year, the Institute for Policy Studies and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition examined progress in the wealth gap since just before the March on Washington in 1962 and found that at the current rate of change, it would take 780 years for Black wealth to equal non-Black wealth in the United States.

All of this has some advocates nervous about the mission of Pelton’s group. “When I hear about a public-private partnership for a problem that historically has been more heavy on the public side, I always look at that kind of suspiciously,” says Reggie Stewart, the Massachusetts liaison for the American Descendants of Slavery Advocacy Foundation (ADOS). Instead, ADOS advocates for a federal program of reparations that returns money and land to descendants of chattel slavery. “Because the gap is so massive,” Stewart says, “nothing short of a direct transfer of wealth solves a wealth gap of this size that’s been allowed to go on for this long.”

Even inside the foundation, some are urging caution about how much impact the partnership might have. “I do think we need to be careful not to over-promise how much any one local effort like this can really meaningfully close the large multigenerational racial wealth gap in Greater Boston,” says Luc Schuster, the executive director of Boston Indicators at the Boston Foundation. At the same time, he adds, “that shouldn’t be interpreted as a reason not to work on this.”

Pelton acknowledges that, at a local level, the partnership’s progress on fixing the gap may be incremental. If the effort doesn’t result in change, it will have accomplished about as much as all of those platitudinous statements after George Floyd’s death. And it would render the man behind it another well-intentioned person in this town who couldn’t narrow Boston’s most shameful statistic.

On the other hand, if Pelton can show how the group’s actions led directly to greater levels of homeownership—and thus greater wealth—it “will have done something really very special,” Pelton says. What he really wants is the scaffolding for finally facing this structural problem to endure long after he’s left the foundation. “The success of this program,” he says, “is if it survives me.”

History Makes the Present

Decades of racial discrimination in the housing and mortgage markets have robbed generations of people of color the opportunity to accumulate wealth. Here’s how.

1930s to 1960s

The Federal Housing Administration revolutionized the mortgage market by introducing long-term loans, with down payments of no more than 10 percent, that were fully amortized, allowing homeowners to accumulate equity while still paying off the loan. This resulted in one of the greatest vehicles for generational wealth accumulation in the nation’s history. Left out of the wealth-building bonanza were many Black Americans and immigrants. That’s because the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation assessed neighborhoods for mortgage lenders, shading supposedly “high-risk” areas in red to steer clear of. Oftentimes, the basis for an area’s so-called redlining on the map was merely the presence of people of color and immigrants.


Following the passage of the Fair Housing Act, the Boston Banks Urban Renewal Group (BBURG) attempted to increase Black homeownership by drawing their own red line around parts of Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan that would provide access, rather than exclusion, from federally backed loans. But the reverse redlining of BBURG, as it was known, led to hasty sales on over-valued homes without proper inspections at the hands of corrupt real estate agents and lenders. Rather than generate wealth, it caused foreclosures.

Late 1990s to 2011

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, lenders disproportionately targeted Black Americans for subprime mortgage loans even when applicants qualified for conventional ones. As a result, the fallout from the subsequent 2008 housing crisis was felt more strongly in Boston’s Black communities, decimating wealth in a population already challenged by discriminatory housing practices. In Boston, according to the nonprofit City Life/Vida Urbana, there were 4,000-plus foreclosures between 2006 and 2011, and more than 80 percent took place in Boston’s historical neighborhoods of color.

Homeownership in Boston, by the Numbers


Percentage of U.S. white households that own a home nationwide


Percentage of U.S. Asian households that own a home nationwide


Percentage of U.S. Hispanic households that own a home nationwide


Percentage of U.S. Black households that own a home nationwide


Percentage of white households that own a home in the Boston metro area


Percentage of Asian households that own a home in the Boston metro area


Percentage of Hispanic households that own a home in the Boston metro area


Percentage of Black households that own a home in the Boston metro area


Typical home price on the low end of Greater Boston’s housing market, September 2021


Typical home price on the low end of Greater Boston’s housing market, September 2022


Median net worth of U.S. homeowners in 2022


Median net worth of U.S. renters in 2022


Interest rate for a 30-year mortgage, September 2021


Interest rate for a 30-year mortgage, September 2022


Number of homes Massachusetts must build, at a minimum, per year this decade to meet housing demand, according to a 2021 McKinsey & Company report


Number of times over the past 30 years that Massachusetts has built that many homes in a year

The Housing Warriors

The Boston Foundation isn’t alone in its quest to increase homeownership in communities of color. These four groups have already made some progress.

Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA)

What It Does: Advocates for the production and preservation of affordable housing statewide.

What It’s Accomplished: Helped engineer and pass the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Law (Chapter 40B) in 1969 to aid low- and moderate-income buyers. It also assisted with the launch of a new website, mymasshome.org, that helps homebuyers navigate assistance programs and other steps of the home-buying process.

Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance (MAHA)

What It Does: Fights for affordable housing while administering homebuyer and homeowner education programs.

What It’s Accomplished: Created a first-in-the-nation program, STASH First-Gen Home, that provides $20,000 in a matching grant to buyers who earn the state’s median income or less and take the organization’s first-time homebuyer classes.

Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP)

What It Does: Develops policy and financing ideas to create more affordable housing by working with government leaders and private lenders as a quasi-public agency. Co-administers of the MassDreams program, which disburses down-payment and closing-cost assistance to communities disproportionately hurt by the pandemic.

What It’s Accomplished: Manages ONE Mortgage, which has helped more than 22,000 low- and moderate-income state households purchase homes by offering 30-year, fixed-interest loans at discounted rates. Distributed a total of $13.1 million in MassDREAMS funding to 510 homebuyers to date, 76 percent of whom identify as people of color.


What It Does: Sells bonds to raise capital for the benefit of low- and moderate-income homebuyers and homeowners, as well as developers. Co-administers of the MassDreams program.

What It’s Accomplished: The organization has provided more than $27 billion for affordable housing since its inception—and through MassDreams, distributed a total of $37.4 million in funding to 1,140 homebuyers, 54 percent of whom were people of color.

First published in the print edition of the December 2023/January 2024 issue with the headline, “Boston, We Have a Problem.”