Out of fairness and in order to realize a diverse community, we should adopt programs to close the income gap, and enable those who live in poverty to grow from survivors to thrivers. Many programs directly support this goal, such as the social safety net that helps families avoid bankruptcy after an accident interrupts employment. Other factors intersect to promote upward mobility indirectly. For instance, public transportation expands the geographic area for workers to find employment without owning a car.
We feel the most glaring and growing obstacle to upward mobility is the household net worth gap. The latest figures available for Boston show the median wealth of white families to be $247,500. The median wealth of Black Caribbean families, the highest of all Black families, is $12,000. For many white families, the equity in their home contributes to that higher number. But rising inequality and stagnant wages make home ownership all but unobtainable for anyone looking for the down payment on a home. And most Black families lack extended family resources to stake them to it. Clearly, addressing net worth inequality is essential to achieving upward mobility.
We propose a “rent to own” program for Brookline. Eligible families would be exempt from a down payment, and a portion of each rental payment would be allocated to their equity interest in the home. When that equity interest reaches the amount of a down payment, it can be applied to a conventional loan with mortgage terms.
The plan to transform renters into owners would have many moving parts including: government to determine the mix of incentives and requirements to create buy -in from real estate developers; lawyers to determine the structure of the arrangement; investment bankers to determine the amount of funding required from developers; local bank and foundations; and of course a program manager to keep it all on track. Any such scheme challenges the creativity and commitment from several parties. Brookline certainly has a wealth of talent to create and shepherd this program. We can also learn from the example of Richmond, Virginia’s Maggie Walker Community Land Trust that launched a rent-to-own program. The Strong Blocks Program in Milwaukee is another example. And we could reach back into history when the GI Bill achieved similar objectives, restricted almost exclusively to whites.
Those who rent are a welcome part of our community. But those who wish to grow deeper roots in Brookline through home ownership should have every opportunity to do so.
Town Meeting Members
(Published in the Brookline TAB, 3/25/2021)