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MHP's Ziegler, MAHA's Crawford testify at city hearing on closing racial homeownership gap

Posted on September 13, 2021

Boston Acting Mayor Kim Janey recently announced a measure to promote economic opportunity in the city. The Boston Home Center's First-Time Homebuyer Program has been expanded to provide up to $40,000 in assistance to income-eligible, first-time homebuyers who seek to purchase a home in Boston. This change more than triples the average amount of assistance previously offered by the city.  

“Homeownership provides economic stability and a chance for working families to build wealth that can be passed from generation to generation,” said Mayor Janey. “Increasing opportunities for Boston families to buy their own homes is essential to closing the racial wealth gap in our city. 

Shrinking the racial homeownership gap was a major area of discussion during a Boston City Council committee hearing held on Aug. 10. Strategies recommended by agency and municipal leaders included: 

  • Increasing the pool of people of color served by homebuyer programs 
  • Directing low- and moderate-income renters to programs to help them enter the homeownership market 
  • Making a substantial investment in expanding the affordable housing stock 
  • Making first-time homebuyer classes and counseling services available in different languages.

The hearing before the council's Committee on Housing and Community Development was chaired by Counselor Lydia Edwards. During the hearing, Symone Crawford of the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance described the challenging buyer’s market prospective purchasers are facing.  

“Homebuyers are facing a market where there are upwards of 10 offers on many properties," said Crawford, who is director of MAHA's first-generation homebuyer program. "One of my [program] participants purchased two months ago after being turned down for literally 10 offers. On the 11th, she had to offer $60,000 over asking. She had to write a letter and send pictures with a detailed depiction of how this homeownership opportunity could benefit her family in order to beat out speculators.” 

She added that supply is not keeping pace with demand. Homes must be provided for participants in MHP’s ONE+Boston program that they can afford, she said in reference to MHP’s affordable housing first-time homebuyer product for residents of Boston. 

Absent a concerted effort, the Black homeownership rate will continue to decline over the next two decades, said Janneke Ratcliffe of the Urban Institute. The number one barrier cited by renters is a lack of assets to make a down payment and pay for closing costs. 

Down payment assistance can break this cycle, especially if it is targeted at those who haven’t had access to the intergenerational wealth building benefits of home ownership,” she said. 

MHP Executive Director Clark Ziegler asked for support for Governor Baker’s proposal to dedicate $1 billion in American Rescue Plan funds for housing and homeownership, $300 million of which would specifically expand mortgage options for communities and populations disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.  

“It’s really important that we have resources available for the Commonwealth now, that can expand successful initiatives like ONE+Boston,” he said. “The legislature has not yet acted on the governor’s recommendation. Support from all of you would be really helpful.” 

Other speakers at the hearing said that offering first-time homeownership classes in languages in addition to English is an essential component for addressing the disparity. 

Karen Rebaza, assistant director-homebuyer services at the City of Boston Home Center, said for the first time her agency is now providing homebuyer classes in Spanish with support from Neighborhood of Affordable Housing, Inc. (NOAH) and (MAHA). 

“Our plan is to increase this,” she said. “We have a staff member who speaks Haitian Creole and we’re really looking for that [language] to be next.” 

Maureen Flynn, deputy director of the Boston Home Center, added that four staff members have been hired recently, three who are bilingual. “It’s very important to us to bring on new staff whenever possible who are bilingual,” she said, adding that application materials, fact sheets, and guidelines are translated into 10 languages. American Sign Language is also offered in homebuyer classes. 

Callahan to continue homeownership advocacy

In case you missed it, outgoing MAHA executive director Tom Callahan will continue his work advocating for private investment for housing and homeownership as he will be taking over as the executive director of the Massachusetts Community and Banking Council in Jan. 2022.

Callahan, who announced in June he was leaving MAHA, was a founding board member of MCBC, which was created in 1990 to promote partnerships between communities and financial institutions to promote more access to credit and financial services in underserved communities.

During his 30-year tenure at MAHA, Callahan headed numerous successful grass-roots campaigns, including working with MHP, the state, the City of Boston and banks to create the SoftSecond Loan Program. Now known as ONE Mortgage, it is the nation’s longest running Community Reinvestment Act mortgage program and has helped over 23,000 low- and moderate-income homebuyers purchase their first home.

Much of Callahan's work was done behind the scenes, talking with banks to get them involved in community reinvestment act lending like ONE Mortgage. He will be well-positioned to continue his work with the lending community at MCBC. 

ONE+Boston continues to reach encouraging numbers 

MHP’s partnership with the City of Boston to offer an enhanced version of ONE Mortgage continues to notch encouraging numbers. In FY21, the program made 74 loans, each one representing a current Boston renter who was able to remain in the city.  

Of that total, 75 percent of the buyers were households of color, 37% were black, non-Hispanic households 62 percent of the buyers purchased market-rate properties. This reverses a trend over the last several years where approximately two-thirds of ONE’S Boston volume was for deed-restricted affordable units. 

ONE+Boston is off to a fast start with in FY22 with 22 loans closed to date. With the anticipated addition of more lenders, we are hoping to do even more ONE+Boston loans this coming year.  

ONE+Boston combines the low-cost features of the statewide ONE Mortgage program with $city funds to help more first-time Boston homebuyers buy in the city. With the additional city funds, ONE+Boston is able to offer discounted interest rates and increased down payment assistance to first-time buyers. 

Five lenders currently offer the program – Santander Bank, Boston Private (now Silicon Valley), Cambridge Trust, Citizens Bank and most recently, the City of Boston Credit Union, which just closed its first loan. More information can be found on the ONE+Boston web page. 

Statewide ONE Mortgage numbers 

FY21 volume through the year-end consists of 772 closings totaling $236,651,486.40. FY22 volume as of August 23 consists of 105 closings totaling $36,861,346. 

(This roundup was compiled by MHP Communications Coordinator Lisa Braxton. If you have questions, contact her at lbraxton@mhp.net).