As part of the program that helped her mother buy the house, restrictions were written into the home’s deed preventing her from passing it down or selling to anyone who does not meet a certain income restriction. Sommer Keita said her family may not be able to own her mother’s home because they make too little money; combined, the household’s income is about 60 percent of the area median income, which is roughly $103,000 a year for her family of six. Most often, deed-restricted housing is reserved for families who make 80 to 100 percent of the area median income, or about $138,000 to $172,000 a year for a household of her size.

“It would be really hard to stay in Boston if we didn’t have the security of this house,” Sommer Keita said. “It is fundamentally an anchor for us.”

This is the push and pull of owning a deed-restricted house. Families are afforded the stability of homeownership in an increasingly expensive neighborhood, but often do not receive all of the long-term benefits that come with owning a home.

While benefits are capped, restrictions are many: Owners must live in their homes as a primary residence, receive city approval to refinance, and if they move before those restrictions expire, owners must sell below market price — all of which limits the amount of wealth they can accumulate.

Income-restricted homeowners live with these stipulations in exchange for a discounted purchase price, down payment, and mortgage rate, which helps widen the pipeline of who is able to own a home and helps slow gentrification.

But critics say such restrictions limit people of color from building the kind of generational wealth that can come with homeownership and help close the racial wealth gap.

“Even when we achieve the American dream, it’s partial,” said Kimberly Lyle, chief executive of the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation, which builds affordable housing in Dorchester and Roxbury.

“I’m not against deed restrictions,” she said. “The issue becomes when we’re focusing on only that type of homeownership opportunities instead of trying to be creative and flexible about helping families that have historically been excluded from wealth building.”

In Boston, city-issued deed restrictions can last up to 50 years. Sommer Keita’s home, for instance, was restricted for 30 years initially, but in 2023 the city tacked on an additional 20 years.

Despite that, Sommer Keita believes the restrictions are needed. “You’re still able to move up the economic ladder and you’ve left a space for someone else to do the same,” she said.

But deed-restricted housing is scarce. According to the most recently published Mayor’s Office of Housing report on income-restricted housing, there is more money available for rental development than for ownership housing.

There were only 2,921 deed-restricted affordable homeownership units in Boston in 2022, or 3 percent of the city’s total homeownership stock. Most of those units are in Dorchester, Roxbury, and the South End, while Chinatown has the highest concentration, with 33 percent of its total homeownership being deed-restricted.

For people who fall outside of the income threshold or aren’t lucky enough to get one of the few deed-restricted homes through a housing lottery, the city also has programs for buying on the open market that offer assistance with down payments, closing costs, and loan rates.

Sheila Dillon, director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing, said she hears “very clearly” from people in those neighborhoods who say “we want homeownership our families can buy. We’re being priced out.”

Some affordable housing advocates, including Lydia Lowe, executive director of the Chinatown Community Land Trust, believe restrictions should be even longer as a way to slow gentrification in vulnerable neighborhoods.

“Of course we’re for building equity and racial equity, but I don’t think that economic livelihood can all be addressed by homeownership,” she said. “It’s just as important for us to be sure that our communities that have built the city can remain in the city.”

On average, people live in deed-restricted homes for 10 years, according to a Mayor’s Office of Housing spokesperson.

For Rahsaan Hall, CEO of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, “The balancing act is how do we generate the type of wealth that would reduce the racial wealth gap through homeownership while still having a supply of affordable housing stock? And that’s the tension.”

The city recently made several policy changes to deed restrictions, including eliminating the option to extend restrictions by 20 years and dropping the income eligibility criteria for family members attempting to inherit deed-restricted property.

“We’re trying to listen to everyone and come up with a sensible policy,” Dillon said.

The changes, however, only apply to affordable homeownership units built since 2023. But Dillon said the city is being flexible with eligibility criteria, especially when it comes to people such as Sommer Keita attempting to inherit property. “We want people to be in the homes they grew up in,” Dillon said.

Vince Wang, an assistant professor of real estate at the University of Washington who has studied deed-restricted homeownership at a national level, said such models mitigate much of the risk of traditional homeownership, strengthen residential stability, and promote equitable wealth building. Since housing related expenses are lower, he said, homeowners have more disposable income “to pursue a better life.”

Take Ivelise Rivera, for example. In 2010, she purchased a three bedroom, income-restricted townhouse with a large backyard in Roxbury for $150,000. Rivera credits homeownership with stabilizing her housing situation, helping her get her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, allowing her to start a business, and freeing up money she used to help her children pay for college.

“I understand that housing is one of the vehicles for building wealth, but we have to think of wealth as more than just dollars,” she said. “That stability enabled me to grow exponentially. I’m in a completely different situation than I was 14 years ago.”

But Rivera does have gripes with the system. She tried to refinance her home several years ago when interest rates were low, but she was unaware she needed permission from the city and her request was denied, she said.

The city is trying to make restrictions easier to understand by simplifying the language used in the legal documents and including information about deed restrictions in first-time homebuyer courses.

Yvette Fernandez, who paid $259,000 in 2022 for a two bedroom, one bath unit in Jamaica Plain, sees the property as a starter home.

“It wasn’t going to be a money maker,” Fernandez said. “It was really because we wanted to stay in the community and I just did not want to pay rent to someone else.”

She believes that if she sells the home, despite the limit on profit, it will still be enough money to upgrade to a larger home outside the city.

“We definitely have bigger goals,” she said, “but we wouldn’t have been able to have that without this as a stepping stone.”

This story was produced by the Globe’s Money, Power, Inequality team, which covers the racial wealth gap in Greater Boston. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

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Julian E.J. Sorapuru is a Development Fellow at the Globe and can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him @JulianSorapuru

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