5 Massachusetts Cities Launch Joint Compact To Push For More Diversity In Real Estate

Five cities in the Greater Boston area have joined forces to push for more diversity in the region’s real estate industry.


Bisnow/Taylor Driscoll

Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne, Boston Chief of Planning Arthur Jemison, Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, Lynn Mayor Jared Nicholson and Salem acting Mayor Bob McCarthy at the ceremonial signing for the CommonWealth Development Compact.

On Monday, top officials from Boston, Cambridge, Lynn, Salem and Somerville held a ceremonial signing of the CommonWealth Development Compact, an agreement aimed at bringing more economic opportunities to minorities in the industry.

The Builders of Color Coalition, the Eastern Bank Foundation, the Civic Action Project and the Boston Society for Architecture designed and implemented the compact. The signing took place at the BSA office in downtown Boston.

“Today’s signing is a testament to the power of collaboration and equity,” Builders of Color Coalition Executive Director Colleen Fonseca said at the event. “Today is also an acknowledgment of the work that leaders of color have been pushing for decades: for a more diverse industry.” 

Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne, Salem acting Mayor Bob McCarthy, Lynn Mayor Jared Nicholson, Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and Boston Chief of Planning Arthur Jemison signed the compact. Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll also spoke at the event.

The compact will act as a pilot program for private developers to voluntarily share data on DEI practices to increase opportunity and access in the construction and development industries. Developers in these cities will be asked to voluntarily provide diversity plans for proposed projects. 

For developers submitting proposals for city-owned sites, city officials will weigh in on the teams’ diversity plans in the bidding proccess. This is in an effort to expand access to local minority- and women-owned real estate companies that might not have been afforded the opportunity in the past.

“When you ask yourselves the question, as I think these local leaders are, of how can we be a driver of our equity goals?” Driscoll said. “When you ask yourselves those questions, this program is the answer. The opportunity for local leaders going through a process very much based on the Massport model.”

The Massport model, a policy introduced nearly a decade ago to mandate diversity on bids for properties owned by the state port authority, has been hailed for its diversity efforts. State government officials aren’t the only ones that have been pushing to improve the industry’s diversity.


Bisnow/Taylor Driscoll

Builders of Color Coalition’s Colleen Fonseca speaking at the CommonWealth Development Compact event.

“Boston has paved the way for us and has really brought us to this moment,” Cambridge’s Siddiqui said.

In 2018, then-Mayor Marty J. Walsh put forward new DEI criteria for the Boston Planning & Development Agency that would ask respondents to requests for proposals for public land to bring forth a Diversity and Inclusion Plan in an effort to allow more participation from minority- and women-owned businesses in the city. In the summer of 2022, Mayor Michelle Wu expanded this effort to owners of privately owned parcels seeking city development approvals. 

Those efforts came after a period in which data shows Boston development contracts overwhelmingly went to white-owned companies. A study published in 2021 by BBC Research & Consulting found that of the $2.1B in contracts awarded by the Boston government between 2014 and 2019, only 1.2% went to Black and Latino-owned businesses. 

The commercial real estate industry nationally has long been dominated by white executives. According to a Bisnow analysis in November of 89 major commercial real estate firms, people of color made up 11.6% of C-suites and executive teams and 18.3% of board seats. 

“This is your moment, and I hope that this compact inspires you to continue the work that you’re doing as well as inspires our new bench of upcoming and excited developers who are immensely talented in this industry,” BCC’s Fonseca said, directing her comments at the region’s Black developers and leaders. 

In the crowd were many prominent developers including Richard Taylor and Darryl Settles, who have launched their own initiatives to bring more diversity into the city. Through the Boston Real Estate Inclusion Fund, launched in January alongside Accordia Partners’ Kirk Sykes, the trio hopes to bridge the racial wealth gap by inviting women and people of color to invest in Boston real estate.

The CommonWealth Development Compact will take effect this month, and local and state officials said that the effects of this push will ripple through the state.

“The brilliance of this program is that none of us had to be dragged by the ear,” Driscoll said. “This was something that we wanted to do, and this was how we were going to be able to accomplish it. While we are starting out with five communities, I know we will have a lot more joining in this effort.”

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