Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Harvard University’s Disappearing Elderly Housing: Cambridge (MA, USA) City Council Input?

1. Introduction, apparently incorrect City Council Understanding, and clearly incorrect Harvard position.
2. Origination from Councilor / Representative Graham’s Activities in 1973?
3. Harvard’s Management of the Building was strictly philanthropic?

1. Introduction, apparently incorrect City Council Understanding, and clearly incorrect Harvard position.

I have previously published several reports on Harvard University’s disappearing elderly housing at 2 Mt. Auburn Street at the eastern extremity of Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA, USA.

My prior reports stemmed from a meeting of a committee chaired by Councilor / Representative Decker in the building. Today, March 20, 2013, I attended a meeting by Councilor Reeve’s committee at Cambridge City Hall.

The Cambridge, MA, USA, City Council voted for a motion in January 2013 concerning the building. That motion included a statement that, based on agreements made with the city during the approvals for the building, the building is permanently designated for subsidized housing. This was the statement made by Decker in the prior meeting. She was contradicted by the Cambridge Housing Authority and Harvard University who stated that the most that could be guaranteed would be an additional 30 years.

Although the comment in the motion was in the form of a statement of law, my subsequent review of the document with the City Clerk’s office communicated to me very clearly that the City Council motion does not refer to any communicated opinion by the City Solicitor.

Councilor Reeves made an apparently incorrect statement from the chair which may have had relation to the supposed permanent guarantee. He said that the building stemmed from a sit in conducted by former Councilor / Representative Graham in 1973.

Also stated during the formal part of the meeting essentially was that Harvard provided this building out of the goodness of Harvard’s heart but that, since affordable / elderly housing is not part of Harvard’s mission, Harvard was selling the building.

I had not intended to talk at this meeting, but after those two points were made, I felt compelled to share my knowledge with the city council and with the tenants who were present.

2. Origination from Councilor / Representative Graham’s Activities in 1973?

I am in the process of researching this issue. The research is still ongoing, but I have quite clearly established, I think, the approval situation.

Until I spoke with one of the residents, my understanding of the situation would fit Councilor Reeve’s comment that the building stemmed from former Councilor / Representative Graham’s activities in 1973.. The trouble is that I was corrected on the matter by a tenant activist who said the variance was in 1970, so I checked the paperwork.

I was wrong in my understanding and Councilor Reeves was also apparently incorrect. The big difference, however, is that Reeve’s comment could be part of the allegation that the housing was guaranteed on a permanent basis.

I happened to have the variance files with me and, by agreement with the committee and the City Clerk, the City Clerk’s office made a copy of my files for the committee’s record.

3. Harvard’s Management of the Building was strictly philanthropic?

My opinion is that Harvard intended to convert the building from elderly housing to housing for Harvard affiliates and that they changed their mind because of changes in Harvard holdings of property.

I have significant experience in the area of the 2 Mount Auburn building. I devoted an entire blog report to my record. \

In front of the committee meeting, facing a time limit for comments, I restricted my experience to two matters.

At the Rent Control Board, I saved 10 Mt. Auburn Street, the historical building at the opposite end of the city block where 2 Mt. Auburn stands. I wrote the zoning change which changed the zoning of that block from the zoning of the core part of Harvard Square to the zoning of the adjoining neighborhood. There had been mention of the Inn at Harvard from the floor, so I pointed out that my zoning change also restricted the size of the Inn at Harvard. Harvard wanted that building to be 62% larger and was prevented from building it at that size by the zoning vote by the then City Council.

I pointed out to the committee that Harvard had used a technique in converting rent control housing to affiliate housing which they could have been prepared to take for 2 Mount Auburn.

I pointed out that conversion to affiliate housing had been in violation of the zoning because affiliate housing would require more parking than was possible under the zoning. I pointed out that the provision had been relaxed by the Cambridge City Council. The old zoning required parking for affiliate housing to be located within a distance of about two relatively small blocks, no further than, approximately, the nearby Surrey Street. The zoning change allowed Harvard to provide parking for 2 Mount Auburn Street in the massive garage under their recent Cowperthwaite Street development. That certainly looks to me like preparation for conversion to affiliate housing.

Since then, Harvard has purchased the I90 (Mass. Pike) exit to Cambridge and Brighton, the related portion of the Mass. Pike, and the local railroad yard, an area equal to Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood or so. This is all across the Charles River in Boston’s Allston neighborhood.

It is my opinion that Harvard is selling 2 Mt. Auburn because they have decided it makes more sense to put affiliate housing in their new addition to their empire in Allston and that they figured they would rather have the money from 2 Mount Auburn’s sale.