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From public housing to first-time home buyer

Program helps BHA residents better their lives

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
From public housing to first-time home buyer
Zandria White speaks during a press conference on the AMP Up Boston Program with Mayor Michelle Wu, BHA Director Kate Bennett and former Boston Mayor Kim Janey, president and CEO of EMPath. PHOTO: ISABEL LEON, MAYOR’S OFFICE

When Zandria White was growing up in the Alice Taylor apartments in the 1970s and ’80s, the idea of buying a home was fairly remote. Her family sometimes struggled to put food on the table. Her father died in 1980 of an overdose.

But over the last year, White has been working with a mentor from the nonprofit Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath) who is helping her achieve the goals she has set.

White is part of EMPath’s AMP Up Boston program, a partnership with the Boston Housing Authority through which public housing residents like White are assigned mentors who help them reach their financial, housing, employment and educational goals. The mentors use EMPath’s economic mobility coaching model, called Mobility Mentoring. Program participants set their own goals, such as completing a college degree or landing a higher paying job, and their coaches help them to attain their goals.

“Now I have a better paying job and I work in a positive environment in which I truly love,” White said during a recent press conference at Alice Taylor Homes about the AMP up program. “I’ll eventually earn a pension. But the most the most rewarding part of this experience so far is my journey towards home ownership.”

White said of her coach, “He gave me the tools and guidance to break things down into small steps, so things are not so daunting. He helped guide me in my job search, in building my resume and talking through my work history and experience. He reminded me about my value. In the past when I wasn’t getting hired, it was easy to be frustrated. But he helped me to stick with it.”

The AMP Up program, which has been underway for a year, is being evaluated by a professor from Harvard University with assistance from the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT and the Harvard-based Opportunity Insights group. EMPath leaders are hoping the insights from the program evaluation will help guide future anti-poverty efforts.

“As we continue to bring families into the study, we are incredibly encouraged by the progress that program participants are making in setting and achieving goals for themselves,” said former Boston Mayor Kim Janey, president and CEO of EMPath. “Our coaching model, Mobility Mentoring, has seen tremendous success in supporting low-income families as they work towards economic independence.”

Mayor Michelle Wu, speaking at the press conference, noted that Boston Housing Authority residents are eligible for up to $75,000 in down payment assistance, a program she said could help residents like White purchase homes. While AMP Up has so far served 250 participants, the program fits into the city’s larger efforts to reduce inequality in Boston, Wu noted.

“Collectively, these are key parts of our strategy so that Boston will also be a place where people can be can afford to live and thrive,” Wu said. “This brings us closer to our goals of closing the racial wealth gap and providing the tools and resources for all of us to build prosperity in our communities.”

White said the program has given her hope that she could attain home ownership in the near future.

“Before joining the AMP Up program, the idea of owning a home was not on my radar,” she said. “I can’t say that it was a dream of mine — because I never thought it was possible. Now, because of all the other progress I’ve made with budgeting and my job, and my mentors supporting and empowering me along the way, I hope to make the leap to owning a home in just six months.”

AMP Up Bosto, BHA, Boston Housing Authority, EMPath