With Equity and Justice for All

IT WAS THE 60’s.

Woodstock and the moon walk were still a year away. The civil rights movement was gaining momentum. And back in 1968, a group of Puerto Rican tenants was focused on equity (rather, lack of it) in their fledgling little neighborhood in Boston’s South End. 

Now more than 50 years later, this group is still dedicated to the idea that all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or financial need, should have equal access to opportunity. For Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA), equity and justice are the backbone of all the work they do.


IBA’s strategic partnership with United Way provides youth in the South End with high quality learning experiences that will prepare them for success in college, career, and life. IBA also works with United Way on Boston Builds Credit, offering financial coaching and financial empowerment, and an upcoming youth credit-building pilot program.


For this month’s theme on Equity, we sat down with IBA’s CEO, Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, to talk more about equity and justice, the vitality of Latino arts, the long-term effects of financial empowerment, and more. 

Vanessa, thanks for speaking with us today. Equity covers a lot of bases. How would you define equity as it relates to IBA’s mission?

We want to help families experience greater equity—having the resources and supports to succeed—through opportunities. Our main core of business is housing equity, the preservation and development of affordable housing in the city of Boston. (This mission goes back to 1968 with the prevention of displaced residents of “Parcel 19” and the eventual development of our Villa Victoria in the South End.)

IBA’s “theory of change” is that we can help a family achieve greater equity (upward social and economic mobility) by increasing access, grounded in a culturally responsive way. 

So in what ways is IBA doing this for your community?

In addition to providing IBA’s core housing services, we help with opportunities in educational and youth programs, health and well-being, financial empowerment, and Latino arts and culture.  Working with United Way, we are piloting an innovative youth credit-building program we hope to launch in the fall at Boston-based community colleges. We want to involve our community in civic engagement and leadership; it helps promote equity. 

Wow, that credit-building pilot sounds interesting…

We’re very excited about this opportunity with United Way, the Mayor’s Office, and community colleges. It’s part of the work that IBA has been doing for years—to help people build assets and wealth. This pilot is based on a study that was done here in Boston showing that young adults significantly improved their credit scores when they had access to credit-building education and one-on-one financial coaching.

Credit issues like student loan debt or high-interest credit cards, could put a young person down a really bad path for their financial future.  Our pilot program could help thwart this at the right time: prime time for a young adult who is just starting out in life. 

Plus, this pilot can be grown to include other communities and other non-profits. By providing these resources, this pilot program will help young people achieve greater equity. 

You mentioned arts and culture earlier. Can that really enhance equity?

Yes! For the arts programs, our goal is celebrating and promoting Latino arts and artists, including our Festival Betances and Villa Victoria Center for the Arts. We are successfully using the arts as a community-building tool. To help people celebrate their heritage, to feel a sense of community when you come to one of our music festivals or art programs. Arts and cultural programs help engage people and bring a social message, especially for young people. The arts can serve as a great driver for equity and social change. 

What are some of the challenges to attaining equity and justice, getting to where you want to be? 

One of the main equity barriers we see are institutionally-entrenched policies. Policies that for decades have blocked access and opportunities for low-income families. Since these policies have been established (some since the mid-1900’s), it’s harder to break away and really close the wealth gap, to bring equity and justice on wealth building, housing, and neighborhood integration. 

While a lot of progress has been made since then, we still have to do so much catch-up. The same often goes for health care and access to health services, education, school segregation: all these policies we have been dealing with for so many years have been a huge obstacle for families to access opportunities, and the kind of networks and resources that are needed to succeed.

For someone reading this, trying to get out of a financial hole, or find housing, or wants to achieve more for their family—any “equity” advice? 

It’s hard, not intuitive: who wants to talk about their personal financial issues? These are difficult conversations to bring forth. The best thing to do is be honest with yourself, educate yourself. Because when people are in financial desperation, they may make even worse choices in picking financial products that aren’t the best for them. 

“How can I set myself up for a successful financial future?”  The best step is to really look at trusted community organizations that do this work in terms of financial coaching and financial empowerment. They’ll work with you, looking at your situation to start guiding you. 

People can feel ashamed, embarrassed. You are not alone. There are resources out there like United Way and IBA to help support you through it all.