Brockton, MA

In this new ethnography and book project, Sharon is studying how the growing unaffordability of cities such as Boston is reshaping entire metropolitan areas, including who has access to housing and neighborhoods. She does so through an ethnography of Brockton, a working-class, post-industrial city on Boston’s metropolitan fringe.

Over the last two decades, this city has become especially attractive to Black first-time homebuyers, many of whom became Brockton homeowners after renting in Southern Boston neighborhoods. In 2017, one in five mortgages extended to Black households across Massachusetts were in Brockton, even as this city only accounted for 1.7% of State-wide loans. That year, twice as many Black households bought houses in Brockton as in Boston, a city seven times its size. Brockton had taken over Boston’s historical place in Massachusetts as the top destination for Black homebuyers, who included African-Americans, Cape Verdeans, Haitians, as well as other Caribbean and African groups. In 2019, a majority of Brockton’s residents identified as Black for the first time: Brockton became New England’s first Black city.

Sharon draws on in-depth interviews, ethnography, and archival and quantitative work, to better understand these historical shifts in metro Boston and Brockton. She answers questions such as: Why were so many Black homebuyers in metro Boston buying in Brockton? What financial and practical challenges were first-time homeowners of different groups facing? How did residents who used to rent in Southern Boston, experience the transition to owning in Brockton?  This project will help sociologists and policy makers better understand key metropolitan changes – of gentrification, reinvestments in cities on the metropolitan fringe, and new forms of racial and ethnic inequality that may emerge as a result – as well as how individuals experience this changing urban landscape. 

This project is supported by a Research Partnership grant of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), as well as by a Stone Research Grant of the Harvard Kennedy School. Sharon has been conducting this study since September 2019, and has lived in Brockton since July 2022.

Media and research blogs:

Milton J. Valencia. The Boston Globe, May 2022, Priced out of the city, Black Bostonians are finding their dream homes on the South Shore

Tania Woodard. The Boston Globe. June 2022. This would-be candidate hoped to address Boston’s housing crisis — but was priced out before the campaign started.

Benjamin Berke, The Enterprise, April 2020, Harvard Researcher Planning Book on Changing Demographics of Brockton

Sharon Cornelissen and Alex Hermann. 2020. COVID-19 and Vulnerable Homeowners: National Trends and Voices from Brockton, Massachusetts 

Sharon Cornelissen and Alex Hermann. 2020. A Triple Pandemic? The Economic Impacts of COVID-19 Disproportionally Affect Black and Hispanic Households.

Brockton city hall