Chrystal Kornegay MCP ’97 was recently appointed executive director of MassHousing, an independent lending agency that finances affordable housing in Massachusetts. She is the first woman and first person of color to lead the agency, and those two firsts are bringing her a lot of attention. “I’m the most popular girl at the dance this week,” she said. “It’s fun, I’m honored, but I’m not letting it go to my head.”
Not just affordable housing but housing period is one of the defining issues of our time
Since its inception in 1966, MassHousing has provided over $22 billion in financing to preserve and expand home ownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income residents living across Massachusetts. Unlike other lending corporations, MassHousing is affiliated with the state government through some of its programmatic offerings but does not depend on the state for support.
Kornegay knows first-hand the benefits of MassHousing—she was able to buy her first home in Mission Hill with a MassHousing mortgage, quite an accomplishment after growing up in a modest Brooklyn neighborhood.
“Not just affordable housing but housing period is one of the defining issues of our time,” said Kornegay. She attributes the rising gap in income inequality in part to decreasing rates of home ownership. “A lot of the ways urban families do wealth is through their homes,” she said. “But now we have people that can’t actually buy a house.”
I go out and talk to people. It was how I was taught to do the work at that technology institute I went to.
At MassHousing she hopes to approach the first months of her new position in the same way she always has. “I go out and talk to people. It was how I was taught to do the work at that technology institute I went to,” she jokes.
Kornegay came to MIT as a single mother on a full scholarship after earning a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College. Her seven-year old son, Elijah, often joined her for class projects and field research. “One of my fondest memories is when we were doing problem sets with my study group. And you know how it is, you’re tired and you’re being silly…and I remember Elijah saying, ‘You guys need to focus on your homework! We have got to get this problem set done.’”
If you are going to be in this business, you need to change people’s lives and change them in a way that’s meaningful to them, not to you.
Kornegay most recently served as undersecretary for Housing and Community Development in Governor Charlie Baker’s administration. In that position, she led efforts to move nearly all of the state’s homeless families living in temporary motels into more permanent housing. And prior to that, she led Urban Edge, a Roxbury-based community development organization.
She believes the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning’s preference for practice over theory as reinforced her own approach to community development. “Theory in of itself doesn’t change people’s lives,” said Kornegay. “If you are going to be in this business, you need to change people’s lives and change them in a way that’s meaningful to them, not to you.”