Building generational wealth in the Gateway Cities

New research from MassINC shows Black and Latinx residents increasingly purchasing homes in unstable Gateway City neighborhoods. After the Great Recession, Massachusetts saw the rate of Black and Latino homebuying in Boston fall drastically, while the rate in which Black and Latino residents bought in Gateway Cities increased proportionally.

Ben explains in a conversation with Tracy, “Largely the folks left Boston as renters were priced out, and they took advantage of the opportunity to buy when they moved to Gateway Cities.”

While increased homebuying is a good thing, “there are concerns about the stability of our Gateway City neighborhoods because many of them never fully recovered from the foreclosures that burned through during the last economic crisis,” Ben says.

The recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic could put pressure on real estate prices, making it difficult for Gateway City homeowners who are disproportionately Black and Latinx to build wealth that can be passed on to future generations.

“If we’re really concerned about structural racism and addressing past inequities, neighborhood stabilization investments are something that we’ve got to be very thoughtful about.”

Home ownership is one of the two main paths toward building wealth— the other is business ownership. It’s crucial that Gateway City residents have access to opportunities to own homes and become entrepreneurs if they choose.

Out in Worcester, a couple is brand-new to the experience of business ownership, and are making use of community connections and developing their own creative approaches to running a business during the pandemic. Jason and Hannah Vuong opened up a branch of the Gong Cha boba tea store this September. They are now navigating how best to serve their customers in a traditionally community-based atmosphere. The husband-and-wife team first decided to open up a shop after many drives to Boston to get their favorite brand, Gong Cha, which wasn’t available in their hometown of Worcester. They also noticed the uptick in commercial activity and a “food revolution” happening in Worcester’s downtown.

“Worcester technically has been up and coming for the last 10 years, but in the last two years it’s shown the biggest strides in development,” Jason said. They decided to take advantage of the emerging market and bring their favorite bubble tea to their city.

“We know so many people like us who do the same thing, who just keep going to Boston every weekend to buy this bubble tea.”

Since opening in early September, it’s been “trying” to run the shop in the midst of a pandemic. To ensure safety, Jason and Hannah are enforcing guidelines that prohibit indoor seating. “When we don’t have any customers [inside], it’s a little strange having the café vibe we originally intended,” Jason says. But, Hannah says the general public has been very understanding of their decisions made in the name of safety, and customers are incentivized to patronize the shop with promotional programs.

Anh Sawyer, the executive director of the Southeast Asian Coalition of Massachusetts (SEACMA), connected Jason and Hannah to resources to help them open up their store. Every day, Anh works with immigrants and refugees from all over the world living in Central Massachusetts. “A lot of them are low-income, and I think the silver lining of being refugees and immigrants is that, in spite of the sufferings, we spring into action promptly to respond to any sudden crisis.”

When the pandemic hit, SEACMA shut their doors and went virtual on March 16. That very day, Anh says, they developed a program creating and administering face masks, a food delivery program, and a communications program. In a week, they produced almost 1,000 cloth masks for nursing homes and health care workers who, at the time, were in desperate need for them.

“SEACMA was considered the one who did the heavy lifting for the greater community during the pandemic,” Anh says. “And because of that, I have to marvel at the entrepreneurial spirit of Southeast Asians.”

Listen to the full Gateways episode here:

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