The joy and relief of finally owning a home was written plainly on Patricia Brown’s face last week as she welcomed Mayor Martin Walsh, members of the Boston Housing Authority, and a host of reporters into her new home at the Olmsted Green development in Mattapan. Her delight in her family’s new surroundings was shared by her nine-year-old grandson Gabriel, who dashed up and down the stairs, excited to show the mayor and any interested reporters his new bedroom, complete with a mini basketball hoop as his great-grandmother, Esther, proudly looked on from the kitchen.
When asked if she had ever dreamed of this scenario, Brown nodded affirmatively: “Every day,” she said.
Brown is a former resident of the Whittier Street apartments in Roxbury, which have been demolished to make way for the construction, through the Whittier Choice effort, of a development containing 200 units of public housing with subsidized and mixed-income units. She was living temporarily with her grandson in Roxbury’s Alice Taylor apartments when she won the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) housing lottery last October.
But even after that initial stroke of luck, there were obstacles to overcome before she finally moved into her new house on Aug. 1.
One of the organizations at the heart of that process is Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath), the former Crittenton Women’s Union which is now a nonprofit that aims to help low-income families out of poverty and into the middle class. President and CEO Beth Babcock offered insight on her organization’s vision and its innovative Mobility Mentorship, which partners clients with a “coach” to help make dreams a reality.
“The issues that families trapped in poverty have are multi-faceted and very complicated,” said Babcock. “In this country, we think people should pick themselves up by their bootstraps, but the way out has become so overgrown that things that should seem obvious are in and of themselves not enough.”
As Babcock explained, building affordable housing is only one piece of the puzzle. Through one-on-one coaching, EMPath provides a support system with a scope that extends beyond the housing crisis, identifying personal financial challenges and future goals or benchmarks.
“For 25 years, these public housing developments have not been shown to help people move out of poverty,” said Babcock. “We need more affordable housing built, but it isn’t the units alone that make it happen, it’s this kind of personal coaching through the steps it takes to change people’s lives.”
Caitlin Smith, EMPath’s director of housing redevelopment and mobility mentoring for Whittier Street, said that the effects of coaching include changing a client’s psychology and mindset by helping him or her envision the future they want.
“When we first met with Patricia, we started talking about how relocation would impact her life, and we talked about some future goals beyond relocation,” said Smith. “We help families to see relocation not just as a chore, but as an opportunity to advance other goals in their lives.”
With the support of her mentor, Brown embarked along the path to homeownership, enrolling in a Homebuying 101 class, attending weekly meetings, and jumping through various hoops with a bank to qualify for a mortgage. Now, having finally realized her housing vision, she’s on the cusp of earning a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern.
“It’s a great thing to have first-time homebuyer programs, but it’s really impossible for people to take advantage of them unless they have the support,” explained Babcock. “They need someone in their corner.”
But even with that support, Brown was responsible for maintaining the patience and diligence necessary to realize her dream. “It took a lot of work, a lot of perseverance, determination, and faith,” she said. For her, safety and health are the two most important things her new home provides. “I’m just grateful for all the support that I was given and I continue to get from all these different agencies,” she said.
As for her Gabriel, the new digs allow him more room to be a kid. “When he first came, he couldn’t stop ringing the doorbell,” said Brown with a laugh.
“It’s perfect,” said Gabriel of his new room. “I get to dunk on people every day!”
Patricia Brown’s grandson Gabriel slams one through as Mayor Walsh loooks on. Photo courtesy Mayor’s Office