Dismantling the structures that perpetuate inequities for Bostonians should be a high priority for the next mayor. Creating opportunities to build wealth in Black and Brown households, developing communities that move families from poverty toward intergenerational wealth, and investing in the infrastructure that will further help already vibrant places become thriving ones will pay dividends for all residents of neighborhoods like Roxbury and Mattapan. The reality is the future of the entire city of Boston depends on it.
Fortunately, the next mayor will have a foundation to build on. Over the past decade, the Walsh administration made a concerted effort to preserve and produce affordable housing in places like Jackson Square and Egleston Square. Both the City Council and Acting Mayor Kim Janey, a Roxbury resident who represents many families living in Urban Edge housing, have quickly made clear their commitments to strengthening Black and Brown communities, supporting affordable housing, and focusing on equity.
But we all know the history. Legally-sanctioned redlining and segregation existed in Boston and our communities have been shaped by those policies. In the 1970s, the neighborhood Urban Edge serves was almost destroyed by a highway project only stopped by grassroots mobilization of residents and community members. For many subsequent years, the communities most impacted by these wrongs – Roxbury, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain – have received a fraction of investment dollars compared to other communities.
Then there is that startling statistic from a 2015 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Duke University and the New School, which highlighted the fact that the median net worth for U.S.-born Black households in Boston is only $8 and for Dominican-born Bostonians, it is $0.
This is the legacy the next mayor must confront head on. But the new mayor must do more than just level the playing field; she or he must plan for Boston’s evolving diversity. The majority of the city’s residents are Black, Brown or members of the Asian American/Pacific Islander community. Forty-two percent of Boston Public Schools students identify as Hispanic, while 33 percent are Black. We must provide the opportunities for those young people and their families – including education, access to jobs and careers, and more equitable public safety as well as housing and wealth generation – that will allow them to thrive.
So, what must the next mayor do for Boston’s Black and Brown communities?
Build Wealth in Black and Brown Communities
Home ownership has always been the key driver of wealth creation for U.S. households. But racist policies in the past shut out the opportunity for home ownership among generations of Black and Brown Bostonians.
Boston’s next mayor should make it a priority to support wealth building efforts for the city’s Black and Brown residents. That means supporting initiatives like our first-time home ownership classes, and strengthening the ONE+Boston Program, which offers low-interest fixed rates, and access to down payment and closing cost assistance.
Build For a Spectrum of Incomes
Urban Edge has built nearly 1,500 affordable homes in Boston, and in recent years especially, we have focused on developing housing for extremely low-income residents. We know how important affordable housing is. But Boston’s high cost of living and demand for quality housing challenge the city’s Black and Brown population in ways that aren’t so different from other populations.
While we’re looking to provide better educational and economic opportunities, we must also offer more housing. A young woman who grows up in our Academy Homes development in Roxbury, then goes off to college and enters the workforce with good economic opportunities should be able to stay in Roxbury. Right now, there are fewer housing options for Black and Brown residents moving out of poverty and into financial stability.
Invest in Infrastructure
Believing that Black lives matter also means believing Black communities matter. The next mayor must make a commitment to strengthening infrastructure in places like Jackson Square and Egleston Square. From better transportation options to greater access to WiFi, investing in the building blocks of our community will lead to even more equitable growth.
It’s a cliché, but Boston can be the “city on a hill” it has always aspired to be – but only if the concerns of Black and Brown residents are given the highest priority. It is institutional, historical, and racist barriers – not lack of drive or ability – driving our city’s wealth divide. That’s the challenge and the opportunity for Boston’s next mayor to meet.
Emilio Dorcely is the CEO of Urban Edge.