For her Postdoctoral research, Sharon is studying how the housing unaffordability crisis of cities such as Boston has reshaped racial and regional inequalities, including in mobility, community control, and access to homeownership. She does so through the ethnographic case study 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 analysis, to better understand the repercussions of our urban housing crisis, though the case of metro Boston and Brockton. Her work highlights longer histories of southward displacement and mobility for African-Americans and Cape Verdeans in New England, and how housing unaffordability has started to create regional cascades of displacement from Boston to Brockton and from Brockton further south to cities like Fall River and New Bedford. She has also drawn on mixed-methods research to show how in tight housing markets FHA loans — meant as vehicles of inclusion in lending — may inadvertently shape racial exclusion and geographic sorting.
By tracing how Boston’s surging housing costs have rippled across in metropolitan area, this project will offer a regional lens on our urban housing crisis. The analysis will also unveils modern-day “soft” redlining, by showing how housing brokers’ and sellers’ practices in tight housing markets may spark racial exclusion and geographic sorting. Finally, her work highlights both the strengths and challenges of “cities of the displaced,” by offering a close look at a changing Brockton and its Cape Verdean diaspora. Understanding these dynamics is critical in this time of urban housing crisis, helping us see its community transformations, regional outfalls, and racial inequalities.
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:
Sharon Cornelissen, Daniel McCue, and Raheem Hanifa, January 2023, Black Immigrant Homeownership: National Trends and the Case of Metro Boston
Madeline Ranalli and Sharon Cornelissen, September 2022, Homebuying Challenges in a Tight Housing Market: Perspectives from Brockton, Massachusetts
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.