Harvard on Housing

Deepening its involvement in Boston and Cambridge, Harvard has pledged financial support for affordable housing in the two cities. At a news...

Deepening its involvement in Boston and Cambridge, Harvard has pledged financial support for affordable housing in the two cities. At a news conference held November 10 before an enthusiastic audience that included both cities' mayors, state representatives, city councilors, and leaders of nonprofit-housing groups, President Neil L. Rudenstine announced a three-part program: a $20-million, 20-year loan to three community groups, to be deployed equally in the two cities; a $1-million pool for grants for policy analysis and new types of housing programs; and a faculty committee to oversee the loans and grants, conduct research, and provide advice to the nonprofit groups.

Greater Boston's straitened real-estate market has made affordable housing a high political priority. Rudenstine noted that the residential vacancy rate is 1.6 percent, that the Massachusetts median home price is more than double the national average, and that rental rates have risen 64 percent in Boston in the past three years (to $1,350 or more per month for a two-bedroom apartment). Those traits reflect a booming economy, restrictions on development, scarce building sites, and the repeal of rent controls in 1995. Rudenstine said that the long term and low cost of the Harvard funds--which are being advanced from the University's general working-capital account and lent at a 2-percent interest rate--would enable the community groups to secure as much as $70 million of additional financing. That should help produce or preserve 500 units of housing in the next three years. Cambridge mayor Francis Duehay '55, Ed.D. '68, one of 10 political and community leaders present that day, praised "a magnificent step forward" and forecast an aggregate gain of 3,500 units over the life of the program.

Rudenstine predicted general gains for the University from the investment. "Harvard itself benefits, of course, from the vitality and attractiveness of Cambridge and Boston," he said, elaborating on a theme he began to articulate at the beginning of the academic year (see "The Academy and the City," November-December 1999, page 77). "But that benefit will also erode quickly," he continued, "if there is nowhere nearby for people to live. At such a time, all of our major public and private institutions should be asking whether we can do more to help."

A specific benefit to the University may be readier acceptance of its plans to develop its remaining Cambridge parcels and the 52 acres of land acquired in Allston, across the Charles River (see "Good Zoning Makes Good Neighbors," November-December 1999, page 84). To that end, Rudenstine concluded his remarks by signaling the action that the mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino, might welcome most. Pledging close consultation with Menino and the community on planning for the Allston area, he said it is Harvard's "firm intention to make both affordable community housing and additional housing for students significant elements of that plan."


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