Hailing Florence Hagins’s legacy: She opened doors to home ownership

It will be a party. A party in her honor.

Next Friday evening, 1803 Dot Ave. will be transformed into a place where Dorchester’s Florence Hagins will be celebrated. Florence passed away last March after years of activism that resulted in thousands of lower income homeowners in Boston and beyond.

In a Dorchester church basement in 1990, she walked in, took a seat on one of the metal folding chairs, and listened as a couple of women in the front of the room representing the nonprofit Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance (MAHA) described a soon-to-be launched mortgage program that sounded pretty awesome – low down payment, discounted interest rate, and no mortgage insurance.

Florence had found the house of her dreams on Jones Hill in Dorchester just weeks earlier. The two-family home would be perfect for her and her daughter, Andraea. But her pending mortgage application was denied because the mortgage insurer thought she was not a good risk.

“It was on a Wednesday that I got the denial letter, and on Friday I got a call from one of the organizers at MAHA, and she told me that the SoftSecond [a loan program sponsored by the Massachusetts Housing Partnership] was up and running. I called and had someone in my house on Sunday night from Shawmut Bank,” she told Banker & Tradesman in a 2001 interview. She was approved and closed on her new home in January 1991. “I was thrilled,” she told the paper.

What she didn’t fully appreciate at that moment was how much that mortgage program would change both her life and the city she called home. Florence had become the very first homeowner in a program that was designed as a response to the historic 1989 Federal Reserve Bank of Boston study on racial disparities in Boston mortgage lending. She decided to follow the footsteps of the neighborhood women who had campaigned for two years to get banks to offer an affordable mortgage program targeted at neighborhoods of color that would reverse decades old patterns of redlining.

Over the ensuing 14 years, Florence become a force to be reckoned with in Boston as she went toe to toe with bank presidents and politicians in an effort to win for others the same chance she had been given to secure a piece of the American dream that she had long thought was out of her reach.

Florence died last March at age 67, leaving a rich legacy of which her family can be proud. And next Friday, MAHA will honor one of her last wishes. No funeral. No memorial service. Just a fundraiser so that the program can reach even more homebuyers.

So a fundraiser it will be, but it will also be a party with live jazz by Sleeping Bee, original spoken word performances by ARTiculation, and plenty of food. Tickets are available at mahahome.org/welcomehome. Come join us.

Thomas Callahan is the executive director of the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance.