Social Justice in 2019: A Year in Review

By Ranelle Porter,

By Michael Givens | December 31, 2019 | 4 Minute Read

From Massachusetts becoming the 16th state to ban a harmful mental health practice to the progress that was made on a bill that can help immigrants stay in the United States, social justice in 2019 has seen many impressive strides forward. As we get ready for the first chapter of 2020, the Join Us For Good campaign and Eastern Bank want to acknowledge the progress we’ve made.

An End to Conversion Therapy in the Bay State

On April 8, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed HR 140 (An Act Relative to Abuse Practices to Change Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Minors) into law. The controversial practice of conversion therapy has long been used by a small number of mental health providers to attempt to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ youth through harmful practices that target physical and mental health.

Over the last several years, the practice has become condemned by a number of professional organizations, including the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others. Numerous studies have shown that attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ youth can cause depression and increased thoughts of suicide and lead to more instances of illicit drug use. Massachusetts joined California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington in legally condemning the practice. Just a month later, governors for both Colorado and Maine signed similar bills into law, with Maine becoming the last New England state to ban conversion therapy.

Providing a Clear Pathway to Homeownership

In 2019, Eastern Bank continued its commitment to social justice by working to provide Boston’s low-income families and families of color with the opportunity to own their own homes.

The Eastern Bank Community Development Lending (CDL) program has an impressive track record in this area, investing millions of dollars into affordable housing projects and community revitalization initiatives. Earlier this year, Eastern Bank Senior Vice President Yongmei Chen was honored for her work to ensure that Asian American families have greater access to housing opportunities in Boston.

“Gentrification is a major issue, not just in the Asian American community but in a lot of minority communities in [Boston],” she said at the awards ceremony. “In Chinatown, particularly, with all of the development that’s going on, the pressure of affordability, of people staying in the city and working in the city is getting tougher and tougher.”

Neighborhoods in Boston like Roxbury and Chinatown saw dozens of new homes built specifically for working families. Eastern Bank didn’t stop at affordable housing—it also invested heavily in its Business Equity Initiative (BEI), which provides capital to small business owners. It’s a great way to encourage entrepreneurship within communities of color.

Climate Strike

Climate change was one of the dominant conversations for social justice in 2019 and it’s an issue that affects every single one of us. On September 20, youth around the world participated in climate strikes to call attention to their deep concern about climate change and its impacts. From Belgium to South Africa, Afghanistan to Japan, thousands of young people took to the streets to discuss issues like greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide levels, oil and gas exploration, rising seas, soil erosion, and the ever-fading ozone layer. In the United States, cities like Denver, San Francisco, New York, and Boston saw thousands of youth congregate in public spaces with colorful signs to demand a healthy future for our planet. The mobilization of so many young people across the world is powerful evidence that 2020 and beyond will see lots of social justice activism.

Dream and Promise Act

No year in review would be complete without discussing advancements in immigrant rights. The Dream and Promise Act passed the House of Representatives this summer. If approved by the Senate and signed into law, it will provide a clear path to citizenship for thousands of immigrants living across the nation. Specifically, this act will support immigrants who came into the United States as minors and provides them with conditional permanent status for up to 10 years. It was a major development in social justice in 2019.

As 2020 begins, the passage of bills like the Dream and Promise Act will ensure that our nation will continue to welcome immigrants who are seeking a better life.

Join the movement of doing good things to help people and communities prosper.

Making Affordable Homeownership Opportunities a Reality in the Greater Boston Area

By Ranelle Porter,

By Michael Givens | April 29, 2019 | 3 Minute Read

Thanks to the leadership and vision of Eastern Bank, Asian American communities across Massachusetts are gaining access to affordable homeownership opportunities through the bank’s Community Development Lending (CDL) program.

The CDL was established to invest much-needed revenue into low-income communities across the Bay state—from affordable housing projects to economic revitalization programs that strengthen local communities. Yongmei Chen, Senior Vice President at Eastern Bank, says that it’s getting difficult to build a life in Boston due to major, high-priced real estate developments.

“Gentrification is a major issue, not just in the Asian American community, but in a lot of minority communities in [Boston],” she said. “In Chinatown, particularly, with all of the development that’s going on, the pressure of affordability, of people staying in the city and working in the city is getting tougher and tougher.”

Though Boston is a prime location for a lot of CDL’s work, Chen said that gateway cities like Quincy and Lawrence also receive CDL funding to build affordable housing. However, Boston is a city where the impacts of gentrification and wage inequality are incredibly dramatic and visible. For example, according to a 2013 report by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), from 2000 to 2009, the average household income for white Chinatown residents leaped from roughly $40,000 to $84,000. During that same period, the average household income for Asian Chinatown residents dropped roughly from $15,000 to $13,000. In 2010, just 46 percent of Chinatown was composed of Asians, a drop from 70 percent in 1990.

With statistics like this, it’s vitally important that resources be invested in minority communities to address income inequality and gentrification.

“Most recently, we finished a project in Roxbury that brought 50 plus units of affordable housing and a social service center that can work with those families,” Chen said. “In Chinatown, we financed 88 Hudson Street, which brought 51 affordable homeownership opportunities, something that is very rare nowadays with all of the development that’s happening. Most of the condos are selling at a very high price, so this will allow working families to live in the city.”

Other successful projects include the Chinatown Community Education Center, the Oxford Ping On Apartments (with 67 units of affordable housing), and the Greater Boston Chinese Golden Age Center.

Rebecca Lee, who sits on the board of the Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC) with Chen, spoke highly of her work to support the Asian American community. “She is passionately committed to community development and social justice, which is evidenced by her professional work and commitments in the community,” she said.

One strength of Chen’s leadership is her ability to see how affordable homeownership opportunities intersect with the economy. “We’ve already put a lot of resources into providing access to capital for small businesses to grow,” she continued, highlighting Eastern Bank’s Business Equity Initiative (BEI), a program designed to provide resources for minority-owned businesses. “It helps with more jobs, prosperity, and, in turn, it will allow families to have a higher income to stay and grow in their communities,” Chen said.

The work that Yongmei Chen and Eastern Bank are doing to improve the lives of everyone in Boston doesn’t end with affordable housing. Tied closely together are early childhood education, youth and workforce development, and even healthcare. Affecting and improving one creates a ripple effect that impacts the others, something Eastern Bank is committed to in order to improve the lives of every Boston resident—no matter who they are.

Learn how Eastern Bank’s Community Development Lending (CDL) program is addressing the issue of gentrification in Boston and beyond.