After losing her job as a nursing assistant at the start of the pandemic, Suzy Lezin found herself struggling to support her two children and falling behind on rent. The 29-year-old Roxbury resident has lowered her debt since 2020, but doesn’t know how much longer she can afford to live in the city where she grew up.
“I’ve lived in Boston all my life. My children go to school here. I went to school here. I would love to stay in Boston,” Lezin said. “But the economy is driving me out.”
At a community meeting Tuesday to announce an expanded homeownership program from the Madison Park Development Corporation, a housing-focused nonprofit in Roxbury, Lezin filled out an application to own her own home, stay in the city and keep her roots planted in Boston soil.
Through a pilot of the nonprofit’s first-time homebuyer program, starting in 2018, nine households living in MPDC’s affordable housing have become homeowners, according to Madison Park CEO Leslie Reid. Through the application lottery system Lezin is hoping to be pulled from, MPDC provides zero-interest loans, offering $100,000 for down payment assistance for home purchases in Boston and $50,000 for purchases outside of Boston. Reid hopes to move five households per year from renting to owning their own homes, with a goal of 15 households within the next three years.
And the program is now permanent, thanks to funding from sponsors, revenue from MPDC rental properties and funds from federal, state and city governments.
“Homeownership is the key path to building assets. Assets become net worth, and that becomes wealth you can pass it on through your family,” Reid said in an interview. “Historic policies have made it difficult for residents of Lower Roxbury and Madison Park to become homeowners. We’re committed to removing some of those obstacles.”
She points to historical government policies that drove Boston’s housing disparities.
“If you look back to the 1950s, Roxbury was a really dynamic, integrated neighborhood with lots of racial diversity. Churches, businesses … all of that was taken through urban renewal and subsequent policies like redlining and lack of access to financing,” Reid said. “All of that kept marginalized people from homeownership. Now you fast forward, and we are putting back what was taken from us.”
“The city and state basically stopped funding homeownership because the market collapsed” in 2008, Reid said. “Nobody could get a mortgage.” So MPDC focused primarily on creating mixed-income rental housing and supporting renters.
Last June, Denise Delgado became a homeowner through the MDPC program, which now enables her to pay roughly half of the market-rate mortgage at a two-bedroom in Egleston Square.
“In 2019, I found myself in several challenging situations. I was going through a divorce, and the apartment that I was renting was too expensive for me as a single person with a child. Then the pandemic started,” Delgado said. “I applied for affordable places to live in Boston, but I didn’t think it was ever going to happen. It was getting down to the wire when I entered the lottery for this apartment, and it’s just really been a huge blessing.”
Delgado now owns a unit on Washington Street in Roxbury, in one of the 17 housing developments managed by the MPDC. A loan from the city’s down payment assistance program helped her obtain a mortgage.
“I am a homeowner, which is something I never thought was going to happen in this period of time and under this set of circumstances,” Delgado said. “My daughter and I were able to move in at exactly the right time, and now we have a place of our own.”
Reid said the renewed public focus on homeownership were driven by the pandemic and the racial reckoning in 2020.
“It’s taken until recently to restart the public investments and homeownership that make these opportunities accessible, and what we’re seeing is a really tremendous momentum,” Reid said. “People are really becoming more mindful of how important equitable homeownership, asset- and wealth-building opportunities are.”
Close to 80% of white residents in Greater Boston own a home, whereas only one-third of Black residents, less than one-fifth of Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, and half of Carribean Black residents are homeowners, according to a 2015 study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
“We want you to create generational wealth, that’s what it’s all about,” Dwayne Watts, the resident and community engagement manager at MPDC, told a few dozen people at the meeting. “We really want you to create generational wealth. The most important piece of this whole thing is making sure that you invite me to your barbecue when you buy that place, because we’re in it together and we’re going to support you the whole way.”
In addition to the homebuyer program, MPDC offers workshops and counseling programs for homebuyers, financial self-sufficiency programs for families and a matching program for savings accounts that go toward homebuying.
Through prior financial assistance from MPDC, Lezin was able to reduce her rent debt by $2,000 in the past two years and get a degree in nursing, which helped her to secure a new job as a nurse. But Lezin still owes her landlord $1,000, and she’s been looking at places to live in cheaper rental markets like Rhode Island.
“I’m still afraid that I’m going to have to move out of Boston, that I will be kicked out,” Lezin said. “My kids don’t want to leave and start all over again. I’m hoping this will be promising and help me achieve my goal of owning a home here.”