Harvardview Apartments

Harvard must listen to tenants’ suggestions when it rebuilds the Charlesview Apartments

After three years of negotiation, the fate of the Charlesview Apartments finally looks close to being sealed. Barring unforeseen difficulties, Harvard will buy the apartment complex, a low-income housing development overlooking Harvard’s Allston athletic facilities at the corner of North Harvard St. and Western Ave. In return, Harvard will rebuild the apartments on a plot of land it owns further west along Western Ave., at the current site of the Brighton Mills Shopping Center. While development could progress on Harvard’s existing Allston holdings without this land swap, we believe that any future campus across the river with a five-acre lacuna at its heart would ultimately be second-best. This triangular plot is crucial to Harvard’s vision of reinvigorating the intersection known as “Barry’s Corner.”

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With the Charlesview land in hand, the Allston expansion looks set to become a vital part of a unified, contiguous Harvard campus on both sides of the river. But we are not without concern for the current residents of Charlesview, whose current living conditions are substandard and whose concerns must continue to be heard. We are confident, however, that a successful expansion into Allston will benefit not only Harvard, but also the Allston community, and, we hope, the current tenants of Charlesview.

Both Harvard and Charlesview’s board of directors—who are representatives of the three churches and one synagogue that own the apartment complex—have been criticized for negotiating directly with each other and not with Charlesview residents in finalizing the land swap. But this was a necessity of the negotiations process: to buy a piece of land, you must work with the land’s owners. Nevertheless, there is ample scope for tenant input in many other aspects of the final deal. In particular, the tenants’ often-expressed concern that a new location could be significantly less convenient must be addressed, perhaps by Harvard’s working with municipal authorities to enhance transportation to the new site. While we believe that a new building will offer considerable advantages for tenants over the existing apartment complex, which has been dogged by structural problems such as leaky roofs, it will be imperative for Harvard to work with the tenants to create, within reason, the best facilities and amenities for the new Charlesview.

This deal brings Harvard one step closer to a massive, and massively beneficial, expansion across the river. We are confident that, with the appropriate consultation, the Allston initiative can be good not only for Harvard but for all parties involved.