At-Large City Council candidate Ruthzee Louijeune, a Harvard Law school graduate and community advocate, said she supports strengthening homeownership programs, reforming zoning laws to be more inclusive, and developing more affordable housing.
“We talk about equity and equity is corrective action, and in the housing space that corrective action is giving people the resources to become homeowners,” said Louijeune.
Louijeune said her first priority if she is elected will be to “buttress and strengthen first generation and first-time homebuyers programs that currently exist within the city.”
One of those existing programs is One+Boston, started during former Mayor Marty Walsh’s term, and continued during acting Mayor Kim Janey’s term. This initiative was created by Massachusetts Housing Partnership which administers the state’s ONE Mortgage Program for low and moderate income first time homebuyers, said Rus Lodi MHP’s Director of Public Affairs.
Louijeune said she plans to encourage lenders to contribute to One+Boston to continue the success of this program. According to MHP’s data, “74 percent of ONE+Boston buyers who’ve closed are households of color and 65 percent have purchased market-rate properties.”
Louijeune also advocates for the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, and said she recently helped them close a deal for 10 million dollars of funding “to help close the racial home ownership wealth gap.”
The alliance has a program called STASH, or Saving Toward Affordable Sustainable Homeownership, “a-first in-the-nation matched savings program” which helps first generation homebuyers save for their first home while working to close the racial homeownership gap. STASH has helped 97 percent non-white clients close on their first homes.Through this program the field can be leveled for those who do not come from intergenerational wealth, said Louijeune.
A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in 2015 found that the median net worth of a Black family in Boston is $8, while the median net worth of a white family is $247,500.
Louijeune said, “It’s not a reflection of anyone’s self worth, it’s a reflection of what we know to be true, housing is the foundation of wealth building and we have prevented Black families from building wealth.”
Louijeune said she hopes to continue to work to bridge the gap when it comes to racial discrimination towards renters and homeowners.
A 2020 study by The Eviction Lab at Princeton University found, “Black and Latinx renters in general, and women in particular, are disproportionately threatened with eviction and disproportionately evicted from their homes.”
Louijeune said she saw this discrimination firsthand and began learning about these issues through her work in housing advocacy as a law student. A professor invited her to participate in Project No One Leaves, where she joined classmates in knocking on the doors of properties facing foreclosure to inform homeowners and tenants of their legal rights. She then began working for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau where she had the opportunity to represent families facing foreclosure and eviction in court. For those she could not represent in court, she ran a weekly eviction clinic where she would help individuals and families fill out forms.
“That’s the beginning of where it all started,” she said, “realizing that housing is an expensive commodity, but it is also a human right.”
Louijeune said she also intends to reform zoning laws in Boston to allow for more inclusion.
Currently, zoning law and historic practices of redlining and blockbusting have prevented affordable housing from being built. Redlining dates back to the 1930’s when New Deal-era government-backed mortgages were available. The government used a color-coding system to rank neighborhoods by how worthy they were of loans. The most risky “red” neighborhoods were primarily Black neighborhoods. These laws and practices continue to affect development today in cities across the US.
Another pressing issue is the development of more affordable housing in Boston. Louijeune hopes to increase the amount of affordable units in market-rate properties, and increase the linkage fee developer’s pay when building a property. These fees primarily go into an affordable housing fund, as well as towards job training programs, said Louijeune.