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Symone Crawford
WEALTH EQUITY IN ACTION:STASH: SAVING TOWARD AFFORDABLE SUSTAINABLE HOMEOWNERSHIP

Symone Crawford

Incoming Executive Director, Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance

WAS STASH A PROGRAM BEFORE YOU JOINED MAHA?

No, let me tell share a little about my background. So, I migrated to this country from Jamaica and to Boston in 1999, so between 2000 and 2003, I desperately needed to buy a home. Living in a basement apartment was not good for me and my three kids and my husband. So, we decided to purchase and someone recommended that I take a MAHA class. So, I went to the class at Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance (MAHA). After I graduated, I purchased a three-family home in Mattapan. 

When I purchased this home, the market was exactly as it was today. The only difference is that the appreciation is twice what it was in 2004. I wanted a single-family home, but I needed to have income. Being a landlord is a lot of work, but so far I’ve been very lucky.” 

MAHA, being the amazing nonprofit organization that they are, usually gives you the opportunity to give back to your community by volunteering for their organizing work and their policy change work, And so, since 2004, I started volunteering at MAHA helping Black and brown people to afford their homes where they wanted to live and stay. I volunteered with them from 2004 to 2018 and was appointed to their board. I served six years as a board member, eventually becoming the board chair for a year and a half.

Then MAHA advertised an opening. At that time, I was working for Allstate Insurance as a claims manager, but they left the state and my job closed. So, I thought, “Okay, I’m not working. Let me apply for this job.” And I did, and I got the job.

WHAT AN AMAZING STORY!

Thank you. The reason for the opening was because Boston initiated a three-year grant with MAHA around this program that became STASH. It had no name; it was just an idea. So, they said, here is this $50,000 grant. It is yours to make into something. So, we named it and I had an amazing team to work with—and so, in March of 2019, we started the implementation, signing people up for the program—and it took off.  We did a lot of work on the city, state and federal level and we got it to where it is today. I am so humbled by the achievement and the potential! That’s the amazing story—and I already feel so proud to be a part of it, but I know it can be so much more. 

WELL, YOU WALKED IN THE SAME SHOES AS THE PEOPLE WHO YOU ARE HELPING.

That’s right. I am a first-time home buyer too. And STASH allows us to truly, deeply impact those who have been systematically disenfranchised through homeownership.

DO PEOPLE HEAR ABOUT YOUR PROGRAM AND COME TO YOU?

Because MAHA is a first-time home buyer education organization, we have really ramped up how many people are graduating from our classes. So, in 2018, we graduated 800 people. In 2019, we graduated 1,700 people. Last year, we graduated 2,400 people. And we are about to graduate between 2,400 and 2,500 this year as well. So, we had a large pool of people. And we were able to get a contract with the City of Boston to offer first-time home buying to their constituents as well. We have limited funding, so we can only enroll 60 participants per year. In addition, though, the City of Boston, seeing the potential, allowed us to enroll an additional 50 participants. So, we have 200 enrolled right now. And we are about to enroll another 100 because, the City, again, invested more money for their constituents here in the City of Boston. It is just moving by leaps and bounds, and I am crazy busy but very excited. 

HOW DOES IT WORK?

So, once a participant completes the first-time homebuyer’s class, which teaches the nuts and bolts of the home-buying process. Then we have requirements. You must be a first-generation homebuyer and we define those as people whose parents did not own in their lifetime or they lost a home due to foreclosure—and we define parents as legal parents or adoptive parents. We don’t discriminate against those who don’t have children, but about 80% of the people we work with do have kids. So, it makes for a really good story. 

In addition to being a first-time homebuyer, they must have come through MAHA’s homebuying class and they can’t have more than $75,000 in assets to join the program. It’s really for people who need the money. If you have $75,000 cash in the bank, you more than likely can make a down-payment on a home. 

So, now, we have over 200 participants; 72 percent are Black and the rest are Latinx, Asian and Whites combined. 

We are truly trying to close the racial wealth and homeownership gap through this program. 

DO THEY HAVE TO HAVE SOME SAVINGS TO PARTICIPATE?

Yes, we ask that they have $2,000 of their own funds and we match them $2,000 to purchase anywhere in the state of Massachusetts. If they are purchasing in the city of Boston, they would receive a two-to-one match up to $5,000, because the City has invested a little bit more money to make it more attractive. We give them 12 months to save that $2,000 or $2,500. We also have a monthly one-hour class that is more in depth about credit, budgeting, savings, asset management. So, when you purchase a home, how are you going to keep it? So we work with them on goal setting. 

What also happens is that people in each cohort share ideas with each other. It’s sheer comradery. So, remember, they’re first-generation homebuyers. They don’t have people to help them through this process—and some didn’t even think it was possible. But because they have one shared goal together, they really champion each other to get to the goal they set at the beginning of the class.

It's a daunting process. I love my job and I think everyone I touch feels that they matter. Whatever I can do for them to let them know that I’m in their corner 100 percent. So, that customer service piece—that we as Black people don’t usually have the luxury of knowing people we can go to for help, and lenders don’t have the time and patience to help us for some reason.  We just aren’t treated nicely, so I try my best to make people feel they matter. You can’t pay for that. That is something that you truly have to work at and make sure that individual feels that they are special.

DID YOU SAY THAT THIS POTENTIALLY BECOMING A NATIONAL MODEL?

That is correct. Over the course of the past two years, we have been talking with someone in Maxine Waters’ staff. They were trying to find an assistance program that can help to impact the equity for Black and brown people. So, we’ve been talking with them for two years and now it’s actually a bill that is being introduced and added to the American Infrastructure Plan. They used the definition of STASH. The one piece that is not attached is the savings piece. So, someone wouldn’t have to have a savings plan to tap into this program on a national level. But STASH was really used to shape that program to where it is. I am so excited.

On a local level, we are still trying to build STASH and scale it to a point where we can match $2,000 in savings with $20,000 for a down payment. Currently, we have an agreement with a developer on $10 million in seed money. We have a $100,000 goal. So they’ve made a commitment that the first $10 million that goes into that program we won’t see for another 18 or 24 months. The project has to be shovel-ready. So, we’re working hard to get private and public funders to really fund this program, because we believe that this will help to close the racial homeownership gap. It’s really bad. Massachusetts is second to last when it comes to homeownership by people of color.  About 70 percent of White people own their own home as compared to 35 percent of Black, Latinx and Asian combined. That’s a two-to-one ratio that is really atrocious, in my opinion. Most Black people do not own their own homes. The racial wealth gap and the racial homeownership gap are intertwined. If we can get people into homes and allow them to build equity, we could see a big change. Ultimately, homeownership leads to a better quality of life.