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Living and Learning Debt Survey

We want to understand the impact of student loans on homebuying in Boston.

Update: The Living and Learning Debt survey has closed. We'll add results about the survey when those become available.

About the survey

Student loan balances have quadrupled in the last 12 years. It's now the second-largest form of household debt, only behind home mortgages.

Forty-four million Americans now hold $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. However, the burden of this crisis is not felt equally by all. In an economy where higher education is necessary for advancement, more people from low-to middle-income families are attending college.

Boston’s racial wealth gap is wide and well-documented. But, the impact of student loan debt on this crisis is not. We believe student loans have also contributed to the delay in and lack of homeownership in younger generations. A home is often a family’s most valuable asset. It's a powerful tool in promoting economic mobility. A home can also be a pathway to the middle class. However, historic discrimination in the housing market has also made homeownership a contributing factor to the racial wealth gap.

In November 2020, we piloted this survey internally with City Hall Employee Resource Group members. Results indicated that addressing the intersection between student debt and home ownership is an important area to explore. You can read key findings and observations from the survey.

Common questions

Common questions

In mid-2020, a group from the City of Boston met to discuss a potential partnership, including:

  • the Economic Mobility Lab (EMLab)
  • the Housing Innovation Lab (iLab), and
  • the Boston Home Center (BHC).

The goal for the group was to focus on student debt and the impact it can have on homeownership rates. A previous survey conducted by the Boston Home Center showed that student debt and credit scores were the two largest barriers to purchasing a home. There was a clear connection between student debt and barriers to home ownership. But, it was also clear that there was a lack of localized, Boston-specific data to characterize the impact. Better data could provide the necessary support to spur innovation for community-driven solutions. The end goal is to help Boston residents pay down debt and build assets.

The Living and Learning Debt team is committed to collecting quantitative and qualitative data. We want to better illustrate the student debt crisis’ impact on homeownership in Boston.

The data collected in this survey will be used to inform policy initiatives on student debt and homeownership. Any publications about the survey findings will only share data in the aggregate. Therefore, survey respondents will not be identifiable. You have the option of giving your name and contact information so that we can follow up with you if needed. But, it is not required and we will not publish this information. All of the demographic information requested helps us:

  • paint a fuller picture of the student debt crisis in Boston, and
  • how it impacts residents of all races, genders, socioeconomic statuses, and neighborhoods.

This survey is intended for Boston residents who currently hold, or have held, student loans.

We plan to publish the results of the study in late fall 2021.

Biden proposed canceling $10,000 in federal student loans during his presidential campaign. He has since reiterated his support. Such legislation would affect 45.3 million borrowers with federal student loans. It would also shave 429 billion off the total federal loan debt.

Canceling $10,000 in student loan debt would be the most helpful to those who dropped out of college before completion. About half of those who default on their student loan debt never complete a degree. Sixty-four percent of them leave college owing less than $10,000 in debt. This would completely eliminate student loan debt for approximately 15 million Americans. However, the majority of student loan borrowers (67%) hold more than $10,000 in student loan debt. While Biden’s plan will help some, student loan debt will continue to interfere with one’s ability to build wealth and financial stability. The small amount of relief will not drastically change one’s ability to purchase a home due to income-to-debt ratio restrictions from mortgage lenders.

Many other elected officials at all levels of government have called for canceling some amount of student debt. But, the future of the legislation that will actually make that happen is uncertain. We’ll be sure to update this page if the situation changes!

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