The Community Coalition on Race launched ChooseSOMA, a website that showcases the towns’ drive for diversity and inclusion.
While SOMA, or Mapso, as the two towns are called, are among the most diverse municipalities in New Jersey, recent data confirmed what the Coalition had feared—a decline in Black and Brown families moving in. Given the towns’ unwavering commitment to fostering a community that is truly inclusive and racially integrated, the Coalition went into action.
"When this trend was confirmed by the Community Coalition's 2019 Demographic Report, the organization began to ponder ways to counter it,” said Coalition Program Director, Audrey Rowe. “One of those solutions was to reach out to Black families and actively invite them to consider becoming residents of the South Orange/Maplewood Community. The ChooseSOMA website is the result."
According to U.S. Census data, swift demographic changes occurred in the late ‘90s. The percentage of White residents fell as the percentage of Black residents rose. According to the 1990 Census, White residents in Maplewood and South Orange made of 84% and 77% of the population, respectively, while Black residents accounted for 12% and 19%. By 2000, however, the numbers were leveling out. The White resident population dropped to 59% and 60% in Maplewood and South Orange, while the African American population rose to 33% and 31%, respectively.
The overall demographics of the towns remained relatively stable for the next decade. Yet 2007—when only 12% of all SOMA mortgages were for Black in-movers—marks the beginning of a drop in new Black residents. If 20 years ago there was a concern about “White flight,” today the decrease in Black in-movers is cause for concern.
Hosted by the Community Coalition on Race, the ChooseSOMA website features all of the reasons this community is a great place to live: its arts and cultural scene, recreational opportunities, good schools, and its progressive focus on intentional racial integration and inclusion.
The website launch coincides with the 25th anniversary of the South Orange Maplewood Coalition on Race, which aspires to build an inclusive, equitable and racially diverse community that is a model for the nation. In addition to launching the website, which invites Black people to consider moving to SOMA, the Coalition is also launching a Special Purpose Loan intended to narrow the racial wealth and home ownership gap. Called the Wealth Gap Equalizer Loan, or WEGL, it offers first-time home buyers who are Black or non-White Hispanic interest-free loans of up to $7500 to help cover the costs of closing and other transactions related to home buying.