Orlando Watkins: So, I’m pleased to have you join us for what I hope will be a frank and thoughtful, thought provoking conversation about the economic and social condition of Black America. The consequences of disinvestment and disintegration in our communities and the frustration and anger that is evident now across the country. I am Orlando Watkins, vice President for programs for the Boston Foundation. And I am pleased and honored to be joined by my friend Andre Perry, a scholar, author, journalist, educator, activist. Andre is a Fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution. We intend in this conversation to cover a range of topics around economic and social issues that have profound impact on the quality of life of African Americans in our country.
He and I will be joined by a panel of some thoughtful and provocative experts in business, housing and social justice. I will introduce them shortly. But I cannot begin the conversation today without referencing the events of the past weeks, and months and years that have taken a physical and psychic toll on Black people in this country. This is very personal for me. I’m a Black man. I have Black sons. But also my mother was raised in the segregated south, specifically the Mississippi delta. A lot of my childhood, my summers were spent in Mississippi. I grew up with an unvarnished knowledge of the indignities and injustices inflicted upon Black people in this country. In 2016, the pain of my mother’s upbringing collided with the realization of how little has changed in many ways. When she called me in tears following the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. Given her Mississippi upbringing, she had known many other instances of unjust and unpunished deaths of Black men at the hands of racist white police and citizens. But Sterling’s murder came at the conclusion of America having been served for two terms by its first Black president. Her tears were a recognition that despite a Black family occupying the white house for eight years, she still had to fear for the fate and uncertain safety of her two grandsons. The racism that killed George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubrey and posed a threat to Christian Cooper are the most recent manifestations of the historic and persistent inequities that plague Black communities.
These deaths, humiliations, injustices are the most recent example of a legacy of discriminatory policies designed to devalue, endanger and deprive Black people access to all rights and recourses that would ensure the best possible quality of life. We know that slavery, America’s original sin, is the cornerstone for all of these discriminatory policies.
Before we begin our conversation with Andre and the panel, I want to ground us in a few other historical examples of how government has preserved and fortified at the barriers to wealth equity. Lincoln emancipated the slaves. Grant promoted reconstruction and fought the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. But in 1877, President Hayes legislatively dismantled the rights and policies of reconstruction and ushered in Jim Crow laws throughout most of the nation. The Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma was what’s known as the Black Wall Street because of its residents’ prosperity stemming from robust businesses and home ownership. Over a two-day period in 1921 whites came in and massacred approximately 300 Blacks on the ground and from the air in private planes. Burned and bombed homes and businesses and enabled white-owned companies to claim the burned areas as ready for industrial use. There was no federal government intervention nor remediation.
The Social Security Act of 1935 excluded coverage for agricultural and domestic workers, most of whom were Black, thereby denying them the opportunity to retire and certainly without financial security. From ’34 to 1962 the Federal Government would underwrite $100 billion in mortgages for new housing. Less than 2% of those mortgages went to non-whites, thereby depriving Black people of the primary source of generational wealth afforded to whites.
These are just a few of the government policies that have historically excluded Blacks from opportunity, the effects of which we are still feeling and continue today in many forms. Lack of minority business investment. Employment discrimination. Disinvestment in public education and substandard housing, to name a few. Again, I want to thank everyone for being here today. Today’s forum will deeply explore these issues but also articulate recommendations and solutions for moving forward more powerfully.
Andre’s latest book, Know Your Price. Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities focuses our attention on assets and answers. And we hope to lift up those themes in today’s conversation.
Just a little bit about the rest of our time together. We’re going to start a little fireside chat with Andre, just to get us all warmed up. Get him warmed up a bit. And then we will move to a discussion with our panelists. As you know, we are being joined by Glynn Lloyd, Executive director for the Foundation for Business Equity; Soni Gupta, the Boston Foundation’s Director of neighborhoods and housing; and Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director and Attorney for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.
All right, Andre, do I have you?
Andre Perry: You have me. Right here.
OW: All right. All right brother. Well, let’s jump in, man. The first thing I want to ask is my friend, my brother, how are you doing, man? How are you feeling? I just want to check in on you. How are you doing man?
AP: Well, I’m doing well. I’m nestled here in Washington DC with my family and my wife and nine-year-old. It’s funny. I was just in a conversation with a journalist about the talk that Black Americans have with their children about interacting with the police. Whether or not to look them in the eye. How to talk. How to be “respectful.” I chuckle a little bit. I said, there is no one talk. I mean within my nine-year-old’s lifetime, there have been numerous occasions where I had to talk to him about what is happening in and around the world. Our sons and daughters are recognizing it in and around the world because they are experiencing it. And so I understand that we romanticize the talk a little bit, but we need a lot of white people to have the talk about racism in this country and how it impacts the life trajectories of millions of their brothers and sisters in this country. So, I’m doing well. I’m fortunate to be one of the 20% of Black people who can work from home. I don’t have to go out but to exercise, but as you know exercising can be hazardous for us. Right now, I’m doing well. And I’m happy to be in front of you and the Boston masses.
OW: All right. You know the deaths of Ahmaud and Brianna and George are manifestations of structural inequalities that plague this countries justice system. In your book you focus a lot on structural inequalities around housing and economic mobility. Why are the elements of the book so relevant to everything that we are struggling with and feeling right now as a country and a community?
AP: You know it really, the need to address structural inequality before these recent deaths. I think the COVID pandemic really exposed the underlying conditions that make some communities more vulnerable to death because of the disease. We saw, clearly, that in areas that were impacted by overcrowded housing, substandard housing, folks that do not have health care. Folks that have limited access to benefits and good pay. Those are the areas where you see the coronavirus spreading rapidly and those are the same areas in which police violence has been leveled against Black Americans in Black neighborhoods. Clearly, people don’t make the connection between policing and public policy. Police protect and serve the public. But it’s clear given the economic data we see in terms of home ownership rates. The wealth gap in this country which is 170,000 for white Americans to 17,000 for Black Americans. They are protecting a public that benefit from the unjust policies of the past.
When George Floyd was under the custody of police, they were not considering him a member of the public. No one who kneels on the back of someone’s neck for that long is considered someone worthy of public policy. It’s stupefying to watch, to see how cavalierly someone can just snuff out the life of someone. But that would have never happened to someone who’s considered a good, upstanding taxpaying American.
And so we’ve got to be clear that the devaluation of lives is directly connected to how we police people. We’re not policing folks we value because they’re not considered a worthy section of the public. That also plays itself out in policy. A lot of my research, which anchors the book, examines home prices in Black neighborhoods and we compared them to home prices in white neighborhoods. We control for all the variables that people say are the reasons why homes in Black neighborhoods are lower. We control for education, crime, walkability. And what we found is that homes in Black neighborhoods are devalued by 23%, about $48,000 per home and cumulatively there is $156 billion in lost equity. That’s the money people use to send their kids to college, to start businesses. Remember most people start their businesses using the equity in their home.
So when it’s not there, you don’t have the revenue to start a business. That $156 billion could be used to fund education and services like policing, as well as infrastructure. It’s a big number. I use that because it’s easy to measure. It’s easy to see that if you helicoptered a home from a Black neighborhood and put it in a white neighborhood, it makes no sense that it would automatically increase in value by $48,000. It’s inconceivable in some ways but that’s what the data shows because of the perception of the neighborhood. Another study that helped inform the book was something that we did where we looked at businesses in Black communities. We scraped all the Yelp data on businesses across the country. And to get a sense of quality and what we found was that businesses owned by people of color and Black majority neighborhoods actually score higher on Yelp than their white counterparts, but get lower revenue largely because people don’t want to go into those neighborhoods because they’d be around Black people. And so the issue here is that it’s not about the fact that we don’t know how to run businesses. Yelp is a great indicator of quality. We know that these apps that do self-reported data on their perception of businesses are great predictors of how folks manage businesses, so the data bares out that businesses in Black neighborhoods run by people of color are quality businesses. And it defies a lot of what we hear.
Black businesses need to go through some program to learn how to run a business. We don’t need those. What the data bares out is that businesses need direct investment. So for me, you know, it goes to what our elders used to say: “Our ice is just as cold.” That used to be the saying because they knew if you don’t access quality you distort the market in a way that suppresses the economic mobility of the residents in it. And so for me what this book is about is to show our ice is just as cold. To say, hey, we have quality businesses. We have quality homes. We have quality leadership. Our electoral strength is strong. However, we’re not investing in those things. And nothing grows without investment. Nothing. Education. Economic Development. Nothing grows without investment. So a goal of this is to drive investment into quality assets that we know are there.
OW: I want to build off of a point I think I hear you making. In the opening parts of the book, you talk about how research often uses the white male as an anchor that all progress is measured against. I will quote this. It says “Are they consciously or unconsciously asking the question: Why can’t you be more like white people? Why can’t you get married and act like a normal middle-class white family?” Can you expound on that point, build on what you already said? I feel like it really does set the tone for the book in many ways.
AP: Yes. I work at a think tank. We do research every day. In the think tank world—in the University world—we’re constantly showing disparity research. We’re constantly showing the differences between white people and Black people in the absence of structural racism which makes all the differences.
If you’re talking about who’s in the middle class, for instance and you just use earnings as the metric, you are really burying your head in the sand as to how people became middle class. If you know anything about housing policy you know that in the ‘30s, Blacks lived in red-lined areas and were essentially denied low-interest home loans so that they could build wealth or start to build their homes, move to better neighborhoods, build wealth for their families, Blacks were denied that. And so to compare a Black person who earns $150,000 to a white person that earns $150,000 without accounting for that wealth difference really misses the mark. But more importantly we’re so wedded to this idea that Blacks have to achieve like white people in order to be good. And so what I try to do is show the strength in Black communities. Something we’re not used to seeing, to say hey, our homes, our leadership is a lot stronger in these areas and that’s evidence that there are communities beating back against structural racism. And so, yes, I do obviously have comparisons with white people, no question. But I use evidence in a way that shows how discrimination benefits white folk, not necessarily showing the effect of Black suffering. We have reams and reams of data that show that Black people are suffering because of structural inequality. What we don’t have is a lot of evidence to hold people accountable for suppressing Black people. So, the goal of the devaluation metric is to say your assets are strong. But they are devalued, and by the way, they are devalued by this much. This is how much you’re owed. This is the debt that must be paid. This is the value that must be restored. It’s an action-oriented agenda. I want to restore value that’s been extracted by racism. That’s the point.
OW: Yeah. Beautiful. The country right now seems to be waking up. The video capturing the brutal death of George Floyd has seemingly created a rally for some unusual suspects who I’d normally get the call from or who I didn’t see marching in the street. We’ve been here before. We’ve been at this point of outrage and training on racial equity and those kinds of things and we are back here again. I guess my question is: What needs to happen from your perspective to keep this outrage and momentum that people are latching onto to begin to change some of these policies systemic and structural issues?
AP: I think there’s one clear difference between this time and a whole lot of other incidents that led to the uprising: I can’t remember a time, maybe in the ‘60s, when these moments occurred so close to a presidential election and where it’s become clear. You have to show a plan to address the racial wealth gap, to address criminal justice issues, to address the income disparities. The unemployment numbers came out. Black unemployment went up. White unemployment went down. Why is that? We’re in a situation where people have to show and prove how they’re going to help Black Americans.
When I look at people who are holding up my book in like photos, it’s a lot of white people buying the book, getting the message. When you look in the crowds of the protests, very diverse. Young. So there is momentum and so I think paired with this election, folks are just tired of the systemic racism in multiple areas of our lives. If we learned anything from COVID it’s that we learned when our neighbors are sick, we are indeed vulnerable. And so, folks want to help the sick. They want to help the vulnerable so that we can be a better country, so we can have better cities and states. That’s why I think you’re seeing all across the country that people are tired and they’re willing to take this to the election, but they want concrete policies. They want concrete investment. They want to see where you’re putting your money. They want to see if you’re funding a Black business. If you’re encouraging Black home ownership. It’s a time when people want to see folks show and prove their love and appreciation and their concern, not just to put up boilerplate statements about their feelings about injustice.
OW: Thank you for that. I’m going to keep the hard questions coming, but I’m going to give you a layup here. A little bit about your story and history and what brought you to this body of work, man.
AP: You know, actually, that’s the hard part for me because for so long I never shared about my family background, but as the story is told in the book and as it was told to me by the woman who reared me, when I was born, before hand there was a deal made between my maternal grandmother and this woman by the name of Elsie Boyd that I would be taken to her house for her to raise. It was not sure if I would be there for a few weeks, few months, a year, but my mother was under duress. She was poor. She was probably abused. But as soon as I was born, I was taken to 1320 Hill Avenue in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, a small municipality where Elsie Boyd and her daughter raised me. My older brother came along with me. A few years later my younger brother came along with me, but along the way this woman raised about twelve to fifteen kids of differing durations. Some stayed for a few months. Some stayed for years. Some stayed till they graduated from high school, like me.
She stepped in a breach when an economy failed Black families. But along the way, when I went to college, it was the first time I read the Moynihan report and his take on why the Black community was suffering and it was the first time I read that people thought my family was deviant. I really took offense to it because it was saying how the Black marital behavior and dead-beat dads were causing Black folks to be poor. And my experience was that no, we constructed families to help uplift families and Black women were doing things that the woman who raised me—I call her, Mom, Mom did to protect Black children. And so no question the reason the cover of the book has a Black woman in an afro on it is because so many aspects of the book shared that Black women are valuable assets. They’re not being invested in. I’m seeking to not only get investments towards Black owned businesses and homes and neighborhoods, but to be clear that Black women have been devalued historically and a lot of this will mean that we need to uplift Black women in the process of investing in Black communities.
OW: Thank you for that, man. You already touched on this, but you talk a lot about economic power and Black communities through Black business success. You’ve already talked about the need to invest more capital in those businesses. What else holds our businesses back, public policy? Networks? What else holds us back?
AP: Man, after this CARES Act/PPP loan fiasco, it became clear that our relationships to banks are not conductive to economic growth. When the CARES Act rolled out and PPP loan program was rolled out and they started distributing funds, immediately I thought that this is not going to work because so many people of color, so many business owners are underbanked or not banked in some cases and that’s not by coincidence. It’s because many banks have denied Black businesses loans in the past. They have given us higher interest rates. When the funds were distributed in that first round, 95% of Black businesses did not receive a PPP loan. It was not because anyone stood up and said I’m going to be racist today. It was because racism is baked into the policies and practices that lets out loans and distributes resources in banking. So and that’s one of the things that we need to do: We need to look at the banking industry and how we distribute resources. We tend to compartmentalize policy and say, hey, criminal justice is separate from the economy and economy is separate from housing and housing is separate from education but let’s be clear. There’s nothing that says that a Black man doesn’t belong in an economy than a police officer snuffing him out in the middle of the street. It’s the same values and belief system that led this man to kneel in the back of the neck that are harbored by executives, are harbored by think tank leaders. Are harbored by people in overall society to snuff out Black people.
In some ways, we need to dramatically change policing and the criminal justice system, but I want to be clear that those same attitudes are harbored in other sectors as well. Very few police officers are held accountable for murder, it’s actually easier to hold someone accountable for murder than to hold some business leaders accountable for a lack of hiring Black people, for not paying them a living wage, for not giving benefits. That’s a much harder thing to do. Economic injustice has killed far more people than police. Bad healthcare policies have killed more people than police. We need to look at all of these things and we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We have enough people in different sectors to work on the injustices and that’s why I love what’s happening in criminal justice and policing. A lot of positive energy that other sectors need to learn from that. They need to see the evidence of discrimination and go back and work in these policies and create the discrimination so that we can hold other people and institutions accountable as we’re trying to do in the criminal justice arena.
OW: Keep going on that same string as it relates to home ownership and affordable housing around the country. I promised this audience that we would also talk about solutions and things that we are seeing that are working in the communities that you’ve researched. What are you seeing that is gaining energy and momentum around energy in communities where Black folks are?
AP: I actually think there’s a lot going good that has gone on in Boston. I talked about housing devaluation across the country, but in Boston, in the Boston metro area, home prices in Black neighborhoods are actually appreciating in value compared to their white counterparts. That’s a good thing and in a lot of ways employment and wages have improved in recent years and so much of that stems from our housing. As I mentioned, people generally use the equity in their homes to fund businesses. So that’s a good sign. Unfortunately. I mean this recession is going to probably change some of those positive figures. That’s why we’re here. Clearly, I want to see individual homeowners receive microloans so that they can help refurbish their homes. When you’re living in a devalued area you just lack the discretionary resources to reinvest in your home. I would like to see new mortgage products for low income buyers, people who can establish credit. That’s another thing: We need to create some type of alternative credit scoring system and you’re seeing people do this at a micro level in cities like Detroit where philanthropy is taking on a roll of a bank in a small scale way to back some mortgage products there. I do think in general we need new mortgage products so that low-income renters can become homeowners.
I also think that we need to invest in small businesses directly. People don’t make the connection, but the profits that businesses earn spill out locally into local neighborhoods. We need to invest in businesses in Black neighborhoods so that those revenues can bleed into those communities. Another suggestion. We’re really going to try over the next few years to push this effort to increase the number of sole proprietorships among Black businesses to increase the number to 15% that will hire at least one employee. If 15% of sole proprietorships start to hire at least one employee that will generate over $55 billion in net growth to the overall GDP.
We need to figure out ways to finance businesses so that they can hire more people. Those are some basic things that we can build upon and it’s particularly true in Boston. Boston is not void of businesses. It’s not void of quality businesses. Like I mentioned, there is housing that’s appreciating. So a lot of things are going on in Boston that’s positive. What could be—we could see more of is direct investment into business owners. Into potential home buyers and home buyers. In economic terms they’re underappreciated assets. If you invested in them, you would see significant growth. That’s the thing that is promising when I talk about devaluation. They’re really underappreciated assets. You add water. It will grow. No question. And so, we just need for folks to make it rain on Black communities. I’m trying to be hip and cool. Yes, there you go.
OW: Glynn Lloyd hasn’t come off his muted screen, but I’m sure he’s snapping his fingers right now. We’re going to—I’m going to ask you one more question so that we can bring Glynn and the rest of the panelists in to continue the conversation. Talk about national leadership in these times. It’s politically charged, but that’s what we’re here to do to have the hard conversation. I’m just going to let you riff on that one.
AP: Oh man.
OW: I’m not going to get more pointed than that. How is it going to hold us back from the opportunity that we have in front of us?
AP: Federal leadership absolutely matters. Earlier I talked about the PPP loan. You have a president who’s saying that he’s been the best president for the Blacks in history maybe since Abraham Lincoln—he stated that in a tweet or something like that. We saw how his administration distributed the PPP loans. Their care for Black people and the overall structure of the economy. This is not just President Trump. There have been many presidents who helped lay this foundation that saw the Black unemployment rate nearly double that of white folks. Since we’ve been measuring unemployment.
We need leadership to recognize that there are structural elements in the economy that reproduce inequality and we don’t have it. We have not had that. Now, you can argue that we’ve never had it. There’s only been one president in the history that has not been racist. You can easily make that argument. The point is we need leadership to recognize—we need the presidency to recognize— structural inequality in this country and do something about it. Clearly the person in office right now does not provide that leadership and in fact he’s doubled down on sowing the seeds of division to get him elected. That’s not going to raise housing prices. That’s not going to get capital to the Black Americans. It’s not going to do anything of substance.
We need to really look at Biden’s plans to lift every voice for African Americans. Now we need to vet it and see if it’s actually going to deliver. The 2016 election was largely determined by giving lip service to Black America. By putting a bunch of slogans on things and not really delivering policy. There’s enough time between now and the election where Biden could put forth policy to have it introduced. To have it vetted. I think we have an opportunity, because the election is so close, to demand federal leadership. That’s where it’s going to come from. It’s not going to come by default in the presidency. It’s going to come from people like you and me demanding that they offer policy to restore the value that’s been extracted by racists.
OW: Thank you, man. Andre, you know—Andre and I met in probably 2005, 2004 maybe, right before Katrina and worked in some interesting jobs down there. I learned a lot from you then brother and I’m still learning from you now. So thank you for making the time and space for this conversation. We need you now more than ever doing the work that you do. So I appreciate you and I love you brother. So let’s invite in the panelists to keep the dialog and the conversation going.
AP: Here we go.
OW: Glynn, I’m going to start with you man, I know Andre was speaking your language for a lot of his comments. Can you speak about the Black and Latino businesses in Boston and the region? What do you see as the areas for growth and wealth bearing right now and maybe reflect on some of Andre’s comments as well?
Glynn Lloyd: Thanks Orlando, and first thank you, Andre, both of you guys. Look, I’m ready to go. I’m pumped up after that fireside chat. Yeah. I think the first thing to say is we exist. A year or so ago one of our local business journals was putting out a list every year and it was minority and women businesses and I looked at this list and it was a list of twenty five top businesses and twenty three were white women. Wait a second. Where is the minority side of that list? And since then they’ve actually gone out and turned a separate list that now highlights and publicizes our Black and Latino and minority owned businesses in the state. So first we have to identify. We have them.
And then Orlando, to your question, what we’ve found is because of all these pressures and the institutional biases and the structural issues, I love this phrase, make it rain. We haven’t been able to really grow effectively. Really, it’s a scale issue. On Andre’s point, we have some of the best entrepreneurs like these businesses, we don’t have second chances. Some of the greatest minds are here but in business you need special tools. You can put it in different categories. The tangible ones we talk a lot about which is capital and growth capital particularly. So we can go down the lane of what that looks like and how it’s not accessible to Black and brown folks and what we’re trying to do to get those barriers out of the way.
Another tangible one is customers. Access to customers. A lot of the stuff from the anchor institution side is coming from folks you know—like you go and you look at who you know and there’s also issue around size and capacity. They’re looking for those larger companies and a lot of the companies because they’re smaller are getting edged out.
The other one we don’t talk so much about is the intangible central tool which is advice. Really good advice. And a lot of that has to do with folks that had that experience prior. What we try to do is bring all these things together. I call it kind of wraparound by any means necessary to support our Black and Latino businesses that get to the potential that they all should be able to achieve. One last piece I’ll say just as an entrepreneur myself. Owning a home: And that category is critical when you shift over to business ownership and being an entrepreneur. It’s complex. It’s really hard. Personal story, I started my business, it took me with my team three to four years to get it to break even. Another couple of years to draw a salary that I could live off of. I was in my twenties. I had a family. I didn’t have any flexibility. So I think it’s hard. It’s hard to do what we have to do in general and then you layer on the structural issues. I’ve got to tell you if the folks that exist today, the folks that we work with, the fact that you’re around tells you something about the resilience of our entrepreneurs.
OW: Andre, you want to respond to that?
AP: I like particularly the opening part where folks just need to be recognized. It’s amazing. I travel all across the country. Maybe not now, but I have traveled all across the country and found folks just like Glynn doing the great work but they’re just not recognized and if you’re not recognized it’s hard to get the kind of investment you deserve. That’s what I’ll take away from Glynn’s comment is that we’ve got to show that there are positive things going on in the community. That’s why I said when we are fixated on disparity you put an emphasis on Black problems, and no one invests in problems. You only invest in strength. So, the goal is to highlight the strength and that’s where the investment is going to go and we need research and forums like this to highlight people who are doing good work.
OW: That’s awesome. Glynn, you going to say something.
GL: Just quickly and I want to get into some of the other issues, I think part of the question a lot of us are asking is what platform do you attach it to? Where do you put your energies? And I want to say on the business front what we’re doing here in the Greater Boston area and the state itself is trying to figure out ways where we can take capital that’s typically not getting to these companies and getting them to our companies. I know, Orlando, we’ve been working together with one piece of that, but we need to figure out that platform. I’m seeing some of the chat questions where folks know where they can put their dollars. I want to stay away from false solutions. You can whitewash things pretty quickly, but really making sure it’s the people who understand these businesses and have the relationships and it’s done with integrity. That’s the other part as we expand these platforms. We want to make sure we have the effects.
OW: Yes. It’s one of the things that I’ve enjoyed about being in partnership with Glynn on this work around supporting businesses. First of all, to your point, Andre, we start with believing that we have assets in our community. We have business leaders that have been resilient and survived despite all the barriers that we’ve talked about. But they need structured resources. If we’re serious about it, it also isn’t cheap. It isn’t a quick course or a program. It takes deep investment. What Glynn has built in the Foundation for Business Equity is a real model that we should invest in as a region, but certainly a model for the country.
I’m going to shift to Soni. If we have some more time, I’ll let you give a closing comment, Glynn. Soni, first of all respond to some of what you’ve heard Andre talk about in terms of public policy and how it has prevented us in all the work that we have done in the Boston Foundation to get home ownership and increase affordable housing. Respond to some of Andre’s comments around the policy barriers but also talk about some of the innovative things that are happening in Boston around these issues. You’re on mute.
Soni Gupta: Thank you, Orlando, and thank you Andre. I have a lot of notes from reading your book, so thanks for all of those insights. And actually just responding to your pointing out that Boston has been doing better in some of the Black communities. Some of the Black communities in Boston have been doing better. We have seen home prices increase, home values increase in the last decade as the population has grown and we’ve seen an innovation economy that’s booming. The flip side of that increase in value has been for renters in particular, feeling the pressures of rent increases that have far outpaced their incomes. As we know, with the innovation economy, the growth in jobs has been at the top end, and a lot of the jobs for folks in these Black communities have been at the lower end and that’s why we have seen the impact of the virus as these essential workers continue to go to their job and be exposed to the virus.
Just picking up on the home ownership issue, I think you’re absolutely right that we are needing to think about home ownership and building more home ownership and the caution around making sure we’re aware that even though home owners are not yet feeling the impact of the virus and all of the losses in jobs, right now we have a foreclosure moratorium in effect in Massachusetts that’s preventing people from having their homes foreclosed on, but we know that there is something going to happen down the road. We also know that 2008 and the market crash wiped out many of the gains in Black home ownership and we don’t want to see that happen again. I absolutely in terms of the products that we’re thinking about perhaps a HELOC like product that’s subsidiary to a first mortgage. There has been a product called iMortgage that has been around in Massachusetts for a while that provides affordable home ownership through lower interest rates, low down payments, no PMI and no points and has been really used well by households of color. Black households do become homeowners and what we’re struggling with now is how do we make sure products like that actually reach the intended audience, while also keeping within the constraints of fair housing. Is it a first-generation approach? Will that help us reach Black households and other households of color and make sure that we reach our intended audience?
With the rental households that we know are struggling with cost burdens, more than almost half of renter households are paying more than 30% of their income towards rent. What kind of protections can we put in place? The eviction moratorium again is something that the state jumped to very quickly. We all are grateful for the speed with which it passed here. We hope that some form of that will continue even as we slowly start to push back to normal whatever normal will look like. Making sure that displacement that’s particularly felt in Black communities from these increasing property values is mitigated by policy solutions.
The tenant option to purchase act, TOPA, and the rights of tenants to purchase their properties and to partner up with nonprofits or other owners is definitely something that’s being considered. There are two bills that were reported out of the joint committee for housing that might enable that. Ownership by entities such as a community land trust is one option. DSNI, one of our original organizations that came out of the dumping and burning that was happening in the Dudley area and sparked a land trust that was the DNI model and is now DSNI has stepped up to lead a community land network that is providing assistance and stability to a lot of the local land trusts. We see many of those as avenues for us to pursue here.
OW: Great. Andre, response?
AP: You know there are so many good things to respond to there. One is: I want to say that Soni is absolutely correct that you can have positive areas for instance in housing, but if pay doesn’t improve for your worker, you are going to see a lower percentage of people who can actually purchase a home, rents will go up, and so that’s why we really do need a comprehensive approach when looking at developing communities. Something else that came to mind in Soni ’s comments was this idea that there are positive local solutions that are actually getting a lot of traction and those should be the solutions we pitch to national stakeholders to get to be used as sort of a demonstration for something larger a larger scale initiative.
I’ve been following a lot of folks that are doing a lot of the things that Soni described and I think they’re great ideas, but they’re just not funded at a level that can take anything to scale. I think what you guys are doing in Boston is very positive and we need to start framing that this is a model that the country can take on and we can show how that can be done on a national level by translating these local solutions into national policies.
OW: Excellent. Ivan. I’m going to turn to you my friend. Two things for you. One is: I know that Lawyers for Civil Rights has supported small businesses of color in this community, so any thoughts or reactions to the conversation around that and examples of the great work that you all are doing? I also want you to respond to the national leadership point that was made. All of us know that in many of our communities, we are literally under attack by some of the national tenor and policies that are out there so I want to give you space to respond to that conversation as well.
Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal: Thank you, Orlando and thank you Andre for joining us today. And I also want to thank the Boston Foundation, including Corean and Orlando all, for the incredible support and leadership that they provide in all of the areas that we’re talking about. Economic justice and also housing. So I think this conversation about small businesses really and wealth creation and wealth generation are intimately connected with civil rights and social justice.
Lawyers for Civil Rights and my organization here in Boston, we do civil rights advocacy. So we will sue the police if there’s an incident of police brutality. We represent the family of a man who was shot by the Boston Police here in the South End in one of the housing projects. And we also provide free legal services to small businesses. And so, some people think that’s a little bit of a strange animal. For us it makes a lot of sense to be doing both and both poles of the social justice trouble. We need to make sure that our rights are respected in society. So that things like George Floyd are not happening and at the same time we need to get to the root of many of these problems, which is the tremendous wealth gap and the tremendous disparities that exist in our communities and across zip codes. For us, the wealth building component is intimately connected to the civil rights struggle and as an organization we use our resources to be able to provide low-income entrepreneurs with free legal support for everything from incorporating down to reviewing their leases and contracts or agreements.
This formula is unique in a way, but it’s also incredibly meaningful. Especially in a place like Boston. Andre, you were mentioning the property values here have gone in a good direction, which is wonderful and we’re fully excited about that, but I also wanted to remind us that not too long ago, the Federal Reserve issued the Color of Wealth study that showed that white households have a median household wealth of $247,000 and Black households and Dominican households have close to zero. So the wealth gap is something that is very much alive with us today. One of the things that we’ve been working on with entrepreneurs right now is really in the intersection of how the pandemic is affecting them in terms of real estate. There are small business owners whose businesses have been completely interrupted. They don’t have money to pay the rent. They don’t have money to pay the mortgage. They don’t have money to pay their commercial space rent, so the moratorium that Soni was just talking about has been critical, but at the same time we can already see that once the moratorium lifts, there might very well be a significant crush with people getting not just evicted from their homes or apartments but having their businesses evicted. And that would be devastating to communities where these mom and pop shops are already anchor institutions in places like Nubian Square, in places like East Boston where these small businesses are the life blood of the community particularly because they employ people from the neighborhood.
That’s one of the biggest assets of having the small businesses that they are generating employment opportunities, so the wealth stays within the community. That’s huge for a community like Mattapan, like Dorchester. I see the issues that Andre, Glynn and Soni are talking about not as separate strands and I think the conversation already has indicated this organically. They are intimately and intrinsically intertwined and in order to make progress we need to make sure we’re doing things like keeping police officers in checks and balances and making sure that small businesses can have opportunities for city contracts and other opportunities. And making sure that those businesses don’t get evicted and that their owners don’t get evicted from their own homes and so this is really a continuum that cuts across multiple methodologies if that makes sense.
AP: You know what’s interesting, like I said before, the same attitudes that motivated an officer to choke out George Floyd are the same attitudes that are held by bank lenders, by housing folks and real estate agents and appraisers and in other sectors as well. So if we’re really going to help uplift our community, we need strategies in all of those areas. Certainly the levers that you need to pull for housing are different than the levers you need to pull for economic development or criminal justice, but the underlying principles are pretty much the same: We’re devaluing Black assets or things associated with blackness. This is not just a Black people thing. What’s interesting about my devaluation studies is that it looks at people living in Black neighborhoods, also, regardless of race. It’s the concentration of blackness that devalues the asset. So if you are a white person, a Latino, Asian American living in a Black neighborhood, you feel that too. You feel the pain as well.
That’s another reason why we’re starting to see these movements become much more multi-racial. Folks are feeling it in many different areas and many different races are feeling the pain. Again, we have to go to this anti-Black legislation behind it all. That’s the issue that the banks position towards entrepreneurs. The banks position to lenders. The police position to Black communities. They come from this anti-black devaluing of Black people and community and so we’ve got to interject the sectionality but address each sector appropriately. I’m all for suing folks, unfortunately. It’s sadly the only way people listen. You know, I say that there’s two things that get people listening about civil rights. Lawyers and fires. When folks start burning things down, oh, people start listening. Likewise, I would rather have a lawyer raise and sue somebody than start a fire, but those seemingly are the only two times that people listen to Black folks.
OW: That’s really powerful. Thank you. Thank you, Andre.
AP: Yeah. Thank you.
OW: I would add, you know philanthropy is among those institutions and sectors that need to think about its biases and how it distributes resources that certainly work that we are engaged in as a foundation. I think we are well into the Q&A time, so I think I’m going to open it up for questions and answers and more dialogue with the panelists and Andre. So I think Corean you’re going to feed me some questions, is that right?
Corean: All right. Okay we have a question here from Nonny, please talk about how to introduce white people to Black businesses to invest in. I know about PPI, and some others, and they’re great. How can we broaden the investment opportunity landscape?
OW: Maybe we’ll let Glynn take a first shot at that and if Andre has some extra ideas or Ivan chime in.
GL: It’s a great question, Nonny, and I think we’re in the early stages of building what I call an appropriate infrastructure, regionally, and I know you’ve been in some of those conversations, I think. What we found; I think another question asked about CFI’s. CFI’s have been that structure for alternative capital for a lot of our businesses. When you look at CFI’s that exist in our region, there’s very few. Very few doing it for Black and brown. So I think we need to double invest in that infrastructure to start and I also think that will give a vehicle for banks to get more involved because they can put money to CRA to reinvestment act dollars and other social impact investors like yourself. I do think there’s also a role for those who really want to moving on the equity side. But I think we need to have a stronger platform for folks to get involved. The other thing, too, is that most investors look at your history and your track record. And so unfortunately, we have to build that to in the process that then reaches out and allows more capital to move. We, folks should know on this line in just a couple of years we’ve been able to move close to five million on the street which sounds like a lot, but it’s a drop in the bucket, but that’s now getting to be real dollars and these are the businesses that folks did not know really existed. There’s a lot more of that demand for the capital in the supply.
AP: You know the only thing I’ll add is that we’ve got to elevate the networks of Black businesses, brown business as well that it currently exists. One of the things that was exposed by the CARES act is that how the banks that actually do work with Black communities and brown communities. We need to elevate those networks so that people can see that those businesses. The other thing. I do think that social impact of the expert investors actually have a good way of spotlighting individuals. I mean, through incubators and accelerators and all of these different things. Unfortunately, they’ve been too pale and too male to in the process. The idea is solid that you should see a entrepreneurship, entrepreneur community in every city that has connections that we can distribute information to so that investors can find easily and so there’s another role for philanthropy there just to help establish that network in every city so that when you are an investor, you can say, I’m going to the Boston Foundation accelerator in this Black community. You can get a sense of that community. So there are things in place. There are networks that currently exist and we can do a better job of building up networks but I think the get to the core, we got to—we talked about this early we could make these businesses and opportunities more accessible, more visible. And so that’s the goal.
OW: Great. Let’s take another question.
Corean: This one is from David Jones. Aside from frequenting Black and brown owned businesses, how can those of us in the Greater Boston community support success and growth of these businesses?
AP: I’ll take it—
OW: Go ahead, Andre.
AP: Invest. Like you know you don’t have to—there’s ways to help and support. I go straight to the chase, cut the check. You know there are businesses we should be investing in. It’s not just about personal investment. We also need to look at who’s managing the municipal funds that the billions of dollars going to that are invested and benefiting our retirement packages. We need more people of color to manage those mega funds. Again, I said it in the beginning. Nothing grows without investment so the easiest way that you can help is by investing in a business. I’m not saying—I want to be clear. I’m not talking charity. I’m not talking you know some giving. I think just giving because you feel sorry for a situation is good. It shows you’re empathic, but again, these are underappreciated assets. If you invest in them, you will get a return, a financial return, but you also, I think, will get social return and we can get closer to a democracy.
OW: Glynn, do you want to add anything to that?
GL: The only thing I would add is because this is such a unique time, I do think right now part of that investment and that energy needs to be on the ones who can actually make it. I hate to say it. There’s going to be some casualties, I think based on what just happened. 40 million people out of work and you know literally a freeze on our consumer economy, but I think to Ivan’s point earlier, those entrepreneurs who’ve been working hard just to get to a stable point, and I want to emphasize, a lot of our businesses were not their balance sheet is not as strong as their white counterparts, the numbers, because of all the numbers people are talking about because of wealth, so they are more accessible to weakness. We really want to lean in on these because we come out of this thing and they’re not there, it’s a double whammy to our community.
IEM: If I could add something?
OW: Yes, please. Yes.
IEM: Really quick. Two points. One is because of COVID 19 I think the circumstances call for interventions that are not typically what we would do. In Lawyers for Civil Rights we’re in the business of providing free legal support to low income communities. In light of COVID 19 we joined forces with TUFTS health plan to roll out $1,000 cash assistance to small businesses. We had enough money for twenty of these small businesses. Over 800 of them applied in greater Boston. 90% of them owned by people of color. 65% of them owned by women. So there is tremendous need out there. I think it’s not just about the lending during this critical time, but also how we can come up with creative interventions. The second thing is it is so critical that we roll out federal, state and local programs with plans towards equity. Piggybacking onto what Andre had said before about the disparities in PPP applications and how Black entrepreneurs and immigrant entrepreneurs and women entrepreneurs are blocked out essentially. It is so critical to create those opportunities. What we did is we dropped everything and started helping small businesses apply for PPP loans. Something we typically wouldn’t do. So, I think we need to think outside of the box.
AP: It also shows that there is a business opportunity there. I’m always looking for the business opportunity and we have networks of Black accountants, Black support that we need to leverage in times like this and that’s the connection that the Federal government is not making. We should be using this as an opportunity to expand the connection with people of color. Unfortunately, the department of labor actually relaxed or did away with the affirmative action policy. We’ve been working tirelessly to get 5% of all federal contracts out to Black and brown business owners. We’ve been working hard to change those procurement policies. The federal government did away with a snap of the finger. The point is that we see a problem in terms of a lot of Black businesses did not have the accountants and support persons to get those applications in and especially when the Federal government said it was a first come first serve thing you essentially said those with privilege are going to win. But the point is I see a business opportunity. That we need to rally our accountants, Black accountants, brown accountants, others who provide these support services to keep momentum going in a positive direction.
OW: Yes. I just want to shout out Glynn and Ivan and Jim Fagle and Betty Francisco and Juan Carolos Morales and so many leaders in our community that rally around trying to get more people of color to the front of the line in this PPP effort. Like you, Andre, from the beginning, we can see the chips were stacked against us. There is incredible wheel on this community and even some of our business leaders, Ron O’Hanley at State Street has been leading the effort to get technical assistance to businesses of color. So we’ve got to leverage and harness all of that will and energy to really try to move the needle on the inequalities that are so pervasive. Maybe we do one more question and then I want to give Andre a chance to say a word or two in closing, and then we’ll wrap up.
Corean: Okay the next question. I know there wwere a lot of questions about Black entrepreneurs taking equity in their company, equity investors. I’ll let you speak more on that. I know you all just spoke on that in the previous question.
OW: Any housing or national leadership questions? None?
Corean: There is one question that says how can we hold ourselves accountable in a 100% transparent way? I absolutely love that Twitter’s founder and CEO has a google spreadsheet pinned to his Twitter profile showing exactly where his COVID 19 money is going. It is updated in real time and there is full transparency. How can we hold what are some other ways we can be transparent in some other way?
AP: Well I mean it’s harder to be transparent with private companies, a lot harder. I think every once in a while you have a unicorn, somebody who steps up and does everything the right way, but the overwhelming majority of folks who have private companies do not share what they’re doing and you’ll see this after every major episode, national episode, you’ll see companies release statements about how they are against discrimination of all kinds, but they don’t necessarily show who they’re paying, what they’re paying employees at what level. They don’t necessarily show what benefits they’re giving—they don’t necessarily see the stock options and who’s receiving them at the expense of worker pay. So those—we do need to have a conversation about being transparent because many of these companies have received federal bail out monies and should be required because of that federal bailout to report on some basic equity metrics. Yes, it’s harder to hold folks accountable when you can’t see what’s going on and it’s harder to do that in the private sector. But it’s a lot easier in the public sector. I’ll just leave it there. We’ve got to put pressure on folks to do what that CEO just did.
OW: The clock is going to run out on us. Andre, I wanted to give you, first of all, before you wax on elegantly about the book and everything, I just want to thank you, man. I want to thank you for your friendship, for your leadership and spending some time with us today. I think we all have a lot to take away and think about and maybe we’ll bring you back in six months or so for another chat.
AP: Yeah. I want to be back earlier.
AP: Certainly, when it’s safe. Soni, Glynn, Ivan, thank you and of course, Orlando, tolerating me for all these years. Thank you. I want to say go get Know Your Price. Order it today. If you can, order it from your local bookstore. We need folks to support local businesses as much as possible. Go but make sure you go get Know Your Price. But more importantly, I think the message still stands clear. There are assets in Boston that are underappreciated. We are going to work with Boston, the Boston Foundation in the future to help identify local businesses and problem solvers and incentivize them in ways that make sense. I will be working with the Boston Foundation, hopefully in the near future to identify, because what I want to do with this book tour is very clear. I want to drive investment towards people like Glynn. Towards the work of Ivan. Towards the things that so many are talking about. There are positive assets in our communities that are non-invested in. It’s as simple as that. And so I want my research to highlight those and please join me on this journey that I’m on to help identify the strengths in these communities that are deserving of investment.
OW: Awesome. The last thing I’ll just say is thank you to our panelists, Soni Gupta, Ivan, Glynn. I also want a special shout out to members of my team who worked to organize this Corean Reynolds and Jordan Biggers and a team of folks at the Foundation. Michelle Hinkle and Ted McEnroe. And thanks to Paul Grogan for always creating space for this kind of leadership. Thank you all. Have a good weekend.