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Black families still lag whites in home ownership, 350 years later

Pedestrians walked past a patch of land on what is now the Greenway where Zipporah Potter Atkins bought property in the 1600s.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Governor Patrick is taking some time today to commemorate the first African-American to have owned a home in Boston. Her name was Zipporah Potter Atkins, and with a name like Zipporah you might already have guessed that she purchased the home a long time ago. In 1670, to be precise.

What about today, though? If the Governor pauses during the unveiling of the commemorative plaque, and scans the buildings around him, how many black-owned dwellings will he see? A Globe analysis of census data shows that even now, some 350 years after Zipporah, there is still a substantial gap between white and black home ownership.


About 30 percent of black families in Boston own their homes, as compared to 46 percent of white families. And if you look across Massachusetts as a whole, the gap is even larger. Nearly three-quarters of white families in the state own their homes; less than half of black families do.

While these gaps are substantial, they have been shrinking. Since 1960, home ownership rates among black families have increased over twice as fast as the rates for white families. And that faster growth has continued into the 21st century.

When we do reach the point that black home ownership matches white home ownership, that too will be a day worth commemorating. Looking at the current ownership gap in Boston, though, it seems we still have a long way to go.

Evan Horowitz digs through data to find information that illuminates the policy issues facing Massachusetts and the U.S. He can be reached at evan.horowitz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHorowitz