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Making Affordable Homeownership Opportunities a Reality in the Greater Boston Area

By Michael Givens , Apr. 29, 2019
Yongmei Chen

Yongmei Chen

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Thanks to the leadership and vision of Eastern Bank, Asian American communities across Massachusetts are gaining access to affordable homeownership opportunities through the bank’s Community Development Lending (CDL) program.

The CDL was established to invest much-needed revenue into low-income communities across the Bay state—from affordable housing projects to economic revitalization programs that strengthen local communities. Yongmei Chen, Senior Vice President at Eastern Bank, says that it’s getting difficult to build a life in Boston due to major, high-priced real estate developments.

“Gentrification is a major issue, not just in the Asian American community, but in a lot of minority communities in [Boston],” she said. “In Chinatown, particularly, with all of the development that’s going on, the pressure of affordability, of people staying in the city and working in the city is getting tougher and tougher.”

Though Boston is a prime location for a lot of CDL’s work, Chen said that gateway cities like Quincy and Lawrence also receive CDL funding to build affordable housing. However, Boston is a city where the impacts of gentrification and wage inequality are incredibly dramatic and visible. For example, according to a 2013 report by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), from 2000 to 2009, the average household income for white Chinatown residents leaped from roughly $40,000 to $84,000. During that same period, the average household income for Asian Chinatown residents dropped roughly from $15,000 to $13,000. In 2010, just 46 percent of Chinatown was composed of Asians, a drop from 70 percent in 1990.

With statistics like this, it’s vitally important that resources be invested in minority communities to address income inequality and gentrification.

“Most recently, we finished a project in Roxbury that brought 50 plus units of affordable housing and a social service center that can work with those families,” Chen said. “In Chinatown, we financed 88 Hudson Street, which brought 51 affordable homeownership opportunities, something that is very rare nowadays with all of the development that’s happening. Most of the condos are selling at a very high price, so this will allow working families to live in the city.”

Other successful projects include the Chinatown Community Education Center, the Oxford Ping On Apartments (with 67 units of affordable housing), and the Greater Boston Chinese Golden Age Center.

Rebecca Lee, who sits on the board of the Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC) with Chen, spoke highly of her work to support the Asian American community. “She is passionately committed to community development and social justice, which is evidenced by her professional work and commitments in the community,” she said.

One strength of Chen’s leadership is her ability to see how affordable homeownership opportunities intersect with the economy. “We’ve already put a lot of resources into providing access to capital for small businesses to grow,” she continued, highlighting Eastern Bank’s Business Equity Initiative (BEI), a program designed to provide resources for minority-owned businesses. “It helps with more jobs, prosperity, and, in turn, it will allow families to have a higher income to stay and grow in their communities,” Chen said.

The work that Yongmei Chen and Eastern Bank are doing to improve the lives of everyone in Boston doesn’t end with affordable housing. Tied closely together are early childhood education, youth and workforce development, and even healthcare. Affecting and improving one creates a ripple effect that impacts the others, something Eastern Bank is committed to in order to improve the lives of every Boston resident—no matter who they are.

Learn how Eastern Bank’s Community Development Lending (CDL) program is addressing the issue of gentrification in Boston and beyond.

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