This Project Provides Housing and Tech Training for Boston’s Young Women of Color

Roxbury’s G{Code} House offers an innovative model for housing and high-tech skills training amid tech industry-driven displacement.

(Photo courtesy G{Code} House)

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The quaint, Victorian-style house where social entrepreneur Bridgette Wallace chose to bring her vision to life looks like any other home in Boston’s historic Garrison Trotter neighborhood.

Built in 1900 and nestled in the heart of Roxbury, this unassuming property on Boston’s Hutchings Street houses an innovative co-living and co-learning model to curb the effects of tech industry-driven gentrification.

Welcome to G{Code} House, a place where women and nonbinary people of color ages 18-24 can reside as they complete a two year coding course that prepares them to enter the workforce.

“G{Code} gave me a chance and started me on the route to success,” says Ebony, an alumni of the program. “This team has lifted us up and held our hands through it all. They have been the best village anyone could ever ask for.”

Wallace, whose family moved to Boston from Jamaica in her youth, has spent more than 20 years organizing in the Roxbury community around housing equity and inclusion. She completed her master’s degree in urban planning at Tufts University in 2011, specializing in economic development, and spent five years designing permanent housing for people living in shelters.

Yet there was another pressing issue that kept drawing her attention: As Roxbury was rapidly gentrifying, the voices of young residents of color were not being heard.

“While I was attending meetings and advocating for affordable housing, I heard young people saying, ‘We want to remain, grow, and be able to live, work and play in the community that we grew up in,’” says Wallace, who founded the nonprofit G{Code} House in 2017.

“It seemed to me that folks weren’t really paying attention to their voices and their concerns and what was happening. There was another voice at the table that was trying to be seen and heard. And I paid particular attention to that.”

(Photo courtesy G{Code} House)

The National Community Reinvestment Coalition’s 2020 report lists Boston as the country’s third most “intensely gentrified” city. From 2013 to 2017 especially, Roxbury and other neighborhoods in the city faced accelerating levels of gentrification as the city’s tech sector expanded, with Black and Latino residents disproportionately bearing the brunt of it.

While this expansion was creating more jobs in the tech industry, they were largely not accessible to Roxbury’s own residents — about 85% of whom are Black or Latino. The majority-minority neighborhood’s residents were instead being displaced from their homes and struggling to find the resources to receive the education required to qualify for these jobs.

Wallace wanted to create a way for Roxbury’s young adults to be able to both stay in their community and take advantage of the job opportunities in the very industry that was threatening to push them out.

So when the Hutchings Street house became available for sale, Wallace jumped on the opportunity and placed a bid for the property.

Facing the possibility of being outbid by other buyers, eager for the much coveted piece of Roxbury property, Wallace wrote a letter to the seller of the property, outlining her vision for a school for young women and nonbinary people of color to receive the coding education they need while remaining housed in Roxbury.

By the magic of Wallace’s pen, the previous home owner decided to sell the property to Wallace. And so G{Code} House was born.

Six years later, the school is thriving. What began with an initial cohort of 10 women and nonbinary people of color has now progressed into its ninth cohort of 25 students.

Though the school has now gone temporarily remote pending renovations on the house, it runs two virtual coding programs quarterly. The original program (an introduction to web development) and the new pilot program (an introduction to data analytics) each run four times a year with a new cohort entering the school each season.

Upon entering the program, students learn coding material for 12 weeks while also building community connections with their peers. After completing three months of training, they are provided with resources to continue their technical education outside of the school. Outside of the learning hours, the school also hosts notable guest speakers and sessions of “community time” so that students are able to establish connections with their peers in spite of the virtual learning model.

Just six years in, the school has seen some remarkable success stories. Many students have gone straight into the tech workforce after completing their training at the house – including jobs at Apple, Vertex Pharmaceuticals and software company ServiceNow— while others have pursued additional courses and skills training with the school’s partner organizations.

One student went on to complete additional coding training before landing a job in tech security — a role that allowed her to buy her family a home. “That’s the kind of generational wealth and transformation that we can see just starting off the ramp with G{Code},” Wallace says.

Each season brings a new level of talent and potential, something she takes pride in. “To take someone who never had any training and see them create a webpage with different functionalities is just amazing to see,” she says. “Seeing the next class will always be my proudest moment. It’s like wow, we’re really here.”

But as Wallace has learned since founding the nonprofit, G{Code} House is not the first school of its kind to dedicate resources towards housing and teaching women of color valuable skills for employment.

In 1897, Victoria Earle Matthews, an emancipated woman, journalist and social worker started The White Rose Mission and Industrial Association in New York. The initiative was intended to provide travel assistance to young Black girls and women who were left stranded at train stations and docks, while also offering optional training on valuable domestic skills that would help them gain employment.

In what became an incredibly valuable program for Black women and children to find their means, the association also accumulated a library of rare books detailing the historical accomplishments of the African American community, and hosted prolific academic lecturers on the campus.

Wallace founded G{Code} without knowing about its historic predecessor. Her discovery of the parallels with Matthews’ association has only fueled her sense of purpose.

“We thought there was an incredible nexus between what we are doing and the work that Victoria did regarding the importance of building communities that center women,” she says.

The school will be welcoming their ninth cohort this fall, thanks to the help of donations from the community and the service of volunteers who help to carry out program functions, including volunteer instructors who teach programming and other tech skills. The house is also in the midst of a capital campaign to raise money for the renovation project that is set to start in fall 2024.

As new faces log on — and eventually step inside the house — to begin their journey with the school, she looks forward to introducing them to careers in tech and the sisterhood of community connections and opportunity that await.

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our weekly Backyard newsletter.

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Punnya Kalapurakkel is Next City's Summer 2023 Emma Bowen. She is a rising junior at Boston College, where she is pursuing a double major in communications and psychology.

Tags: gentrificationtechhousing accessiwddisplacementworkforce development

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