Massachusetts Loses Two Housing Heroes

Massachusetts is home to many outstanding “housers,” but sadly we lost two of our best last week when Michael Stone and Florence Hagins passed away.

Florence was the Assistant Director for the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance until her retirement a few years ago, but she was much more than that too.  She was a devoted mother, community activist and the first person to ever buy a home with the Massachusetts Soft Second Mortgage program in 1991 – the first of more than 18,000 first-time homebuyers to use the program. Florence was just another community member hoping to buy a home when she ran into the same obstacles facing many moderate-income families of color in Boston. Then she discovered MAHA and the Soft Second Program and everything changed. She bought a house, became a volunteer, a staff member, and ultimately Assistant Director. Along the way, she negotiated with bank presidents and lobbied legislators and inspired all of us who do this work.  All of us who knew her and worked with her will miss her deeply. You can learn more about her extraordinary life by reading this tribute from MAHA.

Michael recently retired as a Professor at UMass Boston where he had taught and wrote about affordable housing for decades. Of course, it was hard to tell that Michael had retired because he remained so active – serving on boards of housing nonprofits, conducting research, developing policy proposals, advocating, teaching, mentoring, and motivating all of us who had the honor of knowing him. Michael worked with the Boston Tenant Coalition, the Coalition for Occupied Housing in Foreclosure (COHIF), City Life Vida Urbana, and many others. His book Shelter Poverty: New Ideas on Housing Affordability has been called "the definitive book on housing and social justice in the United States." I can recall many conversations and debates with Michael where we would pore over his numbers and try to reach a common understanding. Sometimes we did. Sometimes we didn’t.  But I also felt respected and always learned something in the course of our discussions.  A few days ago, Michael passed away tragically while on vacation in Hawaii. All of us are still in shock. He was a good man who did important and impactful work that will long be remembered.

May the memories of these two wonderful people serve as inspiration to the rest of us who carry on the work of making sure that everyone has a safe and decent place to call home.