Ira’s homebuying experience was a perfect prelude to her work: She is a real estate agent, specializing in helping other first-time homebuyers find their dream home. And increasingly, she said, they are Black buyers, like her, who find themselves priced out of their home neighborhoods of Hyde Park, Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan, and find their place in familiar communities south of the city such as Randolph, Stoughton, and Brockton.
“The South Shore is giving them more than they can get in Boston,” she said.
The outmigration of thousands of Boston’s Black residents, observers say, also means the loss of the culture and community they carry with them. And it presents a challenge for city leaders: How to keep Black and brown residents who were born in the city and want to stay, but have been priced out of the city’s sizzling real estate market. The dynamic applies across Boston, as young residents find themselves priced out of neighborhoods from Jamaica Plain to Allston, but of particular concern is the effect the gentrification and displacement are having in Boston’s historically Black neighborhoods.
The southward migration of Bostonians also highlights the renewed popularity of Massachusetts’ smaller industrial cities, known as gateway cities.
Brockton, with a steady population of about 95,000, was home to the original Campanelli-style ranch house developments that helped spur the state’s post-World War II suburban sprawl, forging the city’s reputation for affordable living.
Known as the City of Champions for the world-class boxers it bred, Brockton’s roots are working class, its early residents laboring in shoe factories. Now, the city is in the midst of an urban renewal, with revived interest in its downtown, where a commuter rail station allows for a quick 40-minute ride into Boston. Home values and median income levels are rising. And more people, specifically Black people, live in Brockton than ever before, making the city one of the most diverse in the state.
Consider the contrasting numbers: Over the last decade, Brockton saw roughly 8,000 more Black residents living there, a 27 percent jump and the highest number in Brockton’s history. There were just under 16,000 Black residents in 2000, compared to 36,000 in 2020, according to census data. Meanwhile, Boston experienced a net departure of Black residents over the last decade, according to 2020 Census figures, which reported that roughly 8,800 fewer Black people are calling Boston home than a decade earlier — a 3.3 percent decline.
The shift is resonating at the neighborhood level, as well: Dorchester saw an 8 percent increase in white residents, and a 13 percent decline in Black residents, according to Boston Planning & Development Agency data. Mattapan saw a 4 percent increase in white residents, and a 5 percent decrease in Black residents. The pattern has been particularly stark in Roxbury, which saw a 25 percent increase in the number of white residents over the last decade, and a 12 percent decline in Black residents.
With home ownership a key means by which Americans build wealth, housing and planning experts warn that the demographic shift could accelerate the loss of Boston’s middle class, as Black Bostonians looking to buy their first homes increasingly must do so in another city.
“We see this pattern of displacement out of Boston, and so it is changing the face of the city as we know it,” said Sharon Cornelissen, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, who has been researching the migration of Black residents from Dorchester to communities south of Boston, specifically Brockton.
People tend to think of gentrification as the forced migration of renters from a community, compelled by the market power of wealthier residents who convert apartments into condominiums, she said. The trend playing out in Brockton is what Cornelissen calls “homebuyer displacement,” in which people looking to start a family and invest in their own housing have to go elsewhere.
“Even with two incomes, a solidly middle-class family, there’s no way they can afford to buy a house in Dorchester or Roxbury — to stay in Boston,” Cornelissen said. “People may want this kind of life, this kind of space — that’s just not possible in Boston.”
This displacement of Black families carries profound implications, analysts say, for city policymakers as they brainstorm ways to address Boston’s yawning racial wealth gap, captured in the infamous research finding from just a few years ago: The median net worth for white households in the Greater Boston region in 2015 was $250,000, and yet for non-immigrant Black households it was a mere $8.
Last month, Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration proposed spending an unprecedented $380 million in federal and city funds over the next three years to combat the city’s housing crunch, with $106 million of that commitment devoted specifically to creating more home ownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income residents.
Wu campaigned on delivering affordable housing solutions during last year’s competitive mayoral race, calling homeowner opportunities a tool to address inequities and economic disparities in communities of color. Owning their own home, Wu said, gives residents the security of staying close to their family and jobs, and brings a sense of stability to families with school-aged children.
“Home ownership is so critical to our goals and our future — it’s crucial to building generational wealth and long-term stability for families,” Wu said at a press conference last month to lay out more details of proposed investments in home ownership programs. The spending, she said, is meant to address “generations” of policies that discriminated against and built up barriers for families of color.
“We have an opportunity to change that in Boston, to transform what homeownership looks like today and for generations to come,” she said.
Less than a third of Black households in the city own their own homes, compared to 44 percent of white households, according to city data. Among Latino households, a mere 16 percent own their homes.
“So many families want to stay in Boston, we hear this every single day. But with rising costs and competition to buy, they are being pushed out,” Sheila Dillon, the city’s chief of housing, added at the press conference. “So these new resources must be very intentional and help us correct this inequity.”
But even city residents who receive homebuyer assistance in Boston often come to a quick realization that they still can’t afford to buy in neighborhoods where they were born and raised, said Symone Crawford, of the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, which runs classes for first-time homebuyers.
“The housing market, there’s just high constraint right now, and there are no homes to buy in the city of Boston,” said Crawford, who said that roughly 80 percent of the 5,200 people who graduated from the Alliance’s first-time homebuyer instruction in Greater Boston in 2020 and 2021 were people of color, mostly from Dorchester, Roxbury, Hyde Park, and Mattapan.
Crawford said her agency, which hosted Wu’s press conference last month, does not track where graduates ultimately buy their first home, but she has heard from many who moved south of Boston — to Brockton, Randolph, and Stoughton, and, increasingly, as far as Taunton — all cities along the Route 24 highway corridor that leads into Boston.
In addition to affordable housing prices, those cities offer another draw: the vibrant Black communities that have been built over the last decade, making them more appealing to Black Bostonians looking for a new place to live. If house hunters know someone in one of these gateway cities, have relatives there, or see more people who look like them, they are more comfortable moving there themselves, she said.
“Most of the people who take our classes would like to purchase in [Boston] and live in the city, but they can’t,” she said. But, “Those gateway cities, as we have come to know them, the prices are lower, and people tend to move to an area where they feel they’re wanted.”
Indeed, most first-time Black homebuyers end up settling in only a handful of communities in Massachusetts, a short list that includes Brockton and Randolph, according to a 2021 report by the Massachusetts Community Banking Council and the UMass Donahue Institute, Economic and Public Policy Research. Of all the home loans issued to Black borrowers across Massachusetts in 2019, 42 percent were made in just five communities, according to the report.
That same year, there were 130 municipalities in which not a single Black borrower received a loan, an outcome that points to forces of bias in the housing industry as well as buyer preference and comfort — and one that continues to segregate Massachusetts’ residents.
The report also highlighted the lack of opportunities for Black residents in Boston: Just 6.4 percent of loans in the city in 2019 went to Black borrowers, though Black residents make up 23 percent of the city’s overall population.
The picture is much different in Brockton, where 52 percent of loans went to Black borrowers, outstripping Black residents’ share — 40 percent — of the city’s overall population. In all, nearly twice as many Black households received a loan in Brockton than in Boston, though the city is one-seventh the size of Boston.
Look, as well, to the smaller town of Randolph, with only 32,000 residents. Black residents made up 39 percent of the town’s population in 2019, and an equal 39 percent of loans went to Black residents. Across the highway in Stoughton, 24 percent of loans went to Black borrowers, who make up only 14 percent of the town’s population.
Real estate analysts point to a range of factors that could cause variations in the racial diversity of loan recipients among communities: household incomes and wealth disparities; cost of living and market rates by communities; a community’s legacy of redlining and displacement. The Community Banking Council report found that Black households were far more likely than white households to be rejected for a loan, even when accounting for control measures such as levels of income. Also a factor: Borrowers may prefer to live in one community over another because of the quality of schools, or the diversity of a community or business culture.
But what is clear, analysts said, is that people choose to live in a community they can afford, and where they feel welcome.
“Some of it is affordability, some of it is your friend saying, ‘I bought a house, I love it here, come check this out,’” said Tom Callahan, executive director of the Massachusetts Community Banking Council. “I do think name recognition, and the experiences of other people you know, matter in home buying.”
The result has been a boon for Brockton, a former mill city rooted in the shoe-making industry that was hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis.
With more people settling down there, buying homes, and opening businesses, the city has embarked on a downturn urban revitalization, with a plan to create 1,000 new units of downtown housing over 20 years.
“The downtown is going through a renaissance,” said Robert Jenkins, head of the Brockton Redevelopment Authority, who cited a “trend” of people coming from Boston. Brockton, he said, has built a reputation for good schools and a “relaxed lifestyle,” with three golf courses and large parks.
“If you look at the city, if you see who’s buying homes, it’s people moving from Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan — to Brockton,” said Jenkins, praising the effect on the city’s business community and its diversity.
Shaleah Gilmer, a lifelong Brockton resident, said Black-owned businesses have been thriving, too. Three years ago she launched Black-Owned Brockton, a social media platform that promotes and supports the city’s small-business community, and she sees the community’s success in the number of small businesses opening up in new “brick and mortar” shops, creating a new face along business strips.
Interest in her own organization has expanded, too, with more networking events among local business owners.
“It has all been a morale booster,” she said. “The business community has really come together.”
The real estate market is heating up in Brockton, too. The median sale price for all styles of homes in February was $425,000, up 26 percent from February 2020, though that’s still far more affordable than the median sale price of $630,000 in Dorchester, according to market trends analyzed by the real estate firm Redfin.
Marie Charles of Hyde Park is set to join the ranks of newcomers to Brockton. She and her husband and four children, ages 2 to 17, are set to close on a new home there, giving them more space and a yard — things they couldn’t afford in Boston.
“We always dreamed of owning a house in Boston,” said Charles, a project analyst for a Somerville-based health care organization. “But we sat down and realized that’s not even realistically possible.”
The idea of buying her family’s first home was important, Charles said. It is a way to build wealth for her children. Home ownership also provides more stability and security than renting; her current landlord in Hyde Park is currently selling the property. Who knows what could happen with the new landlord?
Charles said she searched in Randolph and Stoughton and settled in Brockton — all places she had a familiarity with, largely through knowing friends and associates who live in those communities. And, more importantly, they were affordable.
“We had always hoped to stay in Boston, that’s where our kids go to school,” Charles said. “It will be a huge shift for our family. But our goal was always trying to purchase a home.”
Farrah Belizaire, 32, who works in academia and as an event organizer, said she would hear similar stories during networking event with professionals of color she organized in Boston: Why is Boston so expensive to live? I can stretch my money further in other big cities. Where will I live if I have a family?
Those venting included both people new to the Boston area and professionals who were born and raised in the city.
“I hear the frustration of people who feel they are being priced out, dealing with gentrification,” said Belizaire, who grew up in Brockton.
Belizaire attended Boston University and still works in the city. But she couldn’t envision herself buying in Boston; not at these prices.
So Belizaire recently bought a condo in a duplex in Randolph. She knows the area well, including the local Haitian community, like the one she grew up with in Brockton. The language and the music are familiar, and there are Haitian and Caribbean restaurants within walking distance of her home.
All of which, she said, “is comforting.”