Myths About Charlesview

Much has been written in recent weeks about the Charlesview Apartments in Allston, a great deal of which has focused on controversy pitting groups against one another: Allston-Brighton versus Harvard; the Charlesview tenants versus the Charlesview board of directors, and so on. This ongoing narrative of controversy shrouds a number of important truths that should be part of the public discourse.

One of these truths is that Charlesview is a one-of-a-kind affordable housing development in the U.S. It is a community of 213 working families, comprising nearly 600 residents, established and owned by a non-profit organization consisting of three faith institutions: Kadimah-Toras Moshe, St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church, and Community United Methodist Church. It stands today on the corner of North Harvard Street and Western Avenue as a living monument to community empowerment, interfaith cooperation, and public-private partnership in the creation of affordable housing.

This leads to a second underreported truth about Charlesview: The board of directors consists of Allston-Brighton community members, and we on the board take our responsibility to our residents and neighbors seriously. There are fifteen of us—all volunteers—including two rabbis, a priest, a Methodist minister, and a former Charlesview resident. Eleven of us make our homes in Allston-Brighton. We are all veteran affordable-housing advocates who give our time, energy, and expertise because we share a passion for this community. Our mission is to provide safe and high-quality affordable housing that responds to the needs of the Allston and Brighton communities.

A third unheralded truth about Charlesview’s board of directors is that we have actively involved and engaged our residents in the redevelopment and relocation decision-making process. We began this process three years ago because Charlesview’s physical structure was nearing the end of its useful life.

Recently a new group of residents has begun to make public claims that Charlesview residents are being “steamrolled” into a move, and that we have ignored and neglected our tenants during this important time. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The development committee has been in place for the past two years, and every single Charlesview resident is invited to participate in its regular (usually monthly or bimonthly) meetings. The committee has not been merely symbolic—a fact readily acknowledged by the residents who have regularly attended meetings. Development committee recommendations have played a significant role in several key decisions including the rejection of Harvard’s first two land exchange proposals, the selection of an architect, and the drafting of a set of guiding principles for redevelopment and relocation. Because Harvard’s Brighton Mills proposal meets all of the guidelines agreed to by Charlesview residents in the development committee, we are now pursuing it further.

We are offering to meet directly with the group currently making public claims in order to address its specific concerns. We have recently conducted a survey of all 213 households. At this time, over half of the households have responded favorably to the prospect of the Brighton Mills relocation, and voiced their preference for a rental unit or a homeownership unit.

We know that moving is hard, and we know there is a group within the Charlesview that is criticizing not only the relocation but also our credibility and motives. We are accountable to all of our tenants, and we are confident that we have exceeded all relevant city, state, and federal guidelines regarding tenant participation during this process.

We have been in tough negotiations with Harvard for over three years, and some opponents of relocating have suggested that perhaps we are colluding with Harvard in some way in order to push through the Brighton Mills site. I am sure that Harvard representatives would not characterize the actual negotiations as “friendly” in any way. Our relationship has always been professional and respectful, but we have been tough and resolute throughout because we have an important mission to uphold. After many hundreds of hours of negotiation and two previously rejected proposals, we have finally secured an offer that satisfies our requirements, and will help us create a new and better Charlesview.

These are important times for the residents of the Charlesview, the greater Allston-Brighton community, the city of Boston, and Harvard University. Our hope is that “controversy,” especially when it comes to the Charlesview, is put into proper context and not overstated.

Rabbi Abraham Halbfinger is chairman of the board of directors of Charlesview, Inc.