How Homeownership Became The Engine Of Inequality


The son of a minister, Ohene Asare grew up poor. His family immigrated from Ghana when he was 8 and settled down in West Bridgewater, Mass., a town 30 miles south of Boston, where he was one of the few black students at the local public school. “It was us and this Jewish family,” Asare remembered. “It was a field day.” His white classmates bullied him, sometimes using racial slurs. His father transferred Asare when he was 14 to Milton Academy, which awarded Asare a scholarship that covered tuition and board. His parents still had to take out loans worth about $20,000 for his living expenses. But the academy set Asare up for future success. He and his wife, Régine Jean-Charles, whom he got to know at Milton, are in their late 30s. She is a tenured professor of romance languages and literature at Boston College, and Asare is a founder of Aesara, a consulting and technology company.

Two years ago, the couple bought a new home. Set on a half-acre lot that backs up to conservation land in Milton, Mass., the 2,350-square-foot split-level has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, an open-concept kitchen and dining area, a finished basement, hardwood floors and beautiful touches throughout, like the Tennessee marble fireplace and hearth. It cost $665,000. “This is the nicest house I’ve ever lived in,” Asare told me.

Asare and Jean-Charles have four children and earn roughly $290,000 a year, which puts them in the top 5 percent of household incomes in the country. After renting for the first years of their marriage, they participated in a home buyers’ program administered by the nonprofit Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America. The program allowed Asare and Jean-Charles to purchase their first home in 2009 for $360,000 with a 10 percent down payment, half of what is typically required. In 2015, they sold it for $430,000. There is a reason so many Americans choose to develop their net worth through homeownership: It is a proven wealth builder and savings compeller. The average homeowner boasts a net worth ($195,400) that is 36 times that of the average renter ($5,400).

Asare serves on the advisory board for HomeStart, a nonprofit focused on ending and preventing homelessness. Like most organizations, HomeStart is made up of people at various rungs on the economic ladder. Asare sits near the top; his salary exceeds that of anyone on staff at the nonprofit he helps advise. When Crisaliz Diaz was a staff member at HomeStart, she was at the other end of the ladder. She earned $38,000 a year, putting her near the bottom third of American household incomes. A 26-year-old Latina with thick-rimmed glasses, Diaz rents a small two-bedroom apartment in Braintree, Mass., an outer suburb of Boston. Her two sons, Xzayvior and Mayson — Zay and May, she calls them — share a room plastered with Lego posters and Mickey Mouse stickers. Her apartment is spare and clean, with ceiling tiles you can push up and views of the parking lot and busy street.

Read more at The New York Times.