In Allston, Tenants Await Land Swap

A sense of inevitability dominated the meeting convened last night in Allston to discuss the pros and cons of a new proposal by Harvard to swap a five-acre property in the Brighton Mills Shopping Center for the land currently occupied by the Charlesview Apartments.

The low-income housing community is situated on a plot of land at the heart of Harvard’s new Allston campus, a seven acre triangle at the intersection of Western Ave. and North Harvard Street that may become home to a new center for the arts.

“Now we’re not moving yet, it’s not a done deal. I told Kevin [McClusky ’76, director of community relations], the residents need to talk about it,” said Charlesview Residents’ Organization President Debby Giovanditto.

But the subdued tone of last night’s meeting, at which senior citizens filled out evaluations of the offered site in five different languages, suggested otherwise.

In a deal announced publicly last week, Harvard offered Charlesview a five acre plot of land—currently home to K-Mart at the Harvard-owned Brighton Mills Shopping Center—and the funding to construct new units there in exchange for their current property.

The site—the third offered by the University in the last year and a half—is close to amenities like public transportation.

“So far this is the best site we’ve seen,” said Elsa Rojas, who has lived in the apartments for 25 years.

“We don’t want to leave, but I don’t think we have too much choice,” she added.

Nor does the residents’ perception that their potential neighbors object to the construction of 310 units of low-income housing for the Charlesview residents make the move more palatable, Rojas said. Rojas referred to a meeting last Thursday at which neighbors of the new site sharply questioned Harvard officials about the ramifications of the move.

And Giovanditto noted that Charlesview residents face the challenge of combatting stereotypes about low-income communities.

“Charlesview is known as a project and we’re not a project. We don’t have those kind of problems,” Giovanditto said last night.


The Charlesview Board approached the University three years ago, seeking a way to improve conditions for tenants of the dilapidated apartments. The Board rejected two previous Harvard offers, maintaining that those sites lacked adequate access to amenities like public transportation.

Constructed in 1971, the concrete block structure—distinctly lacking a view of the river—contrasts sharply with the crisp brick and white finish of Harvard Business School, located just next door.

“If it’s going to be a better building and I’m going to get a washing machine, then I’m all for it,” resident Karen Coleman, who spent four years on a waiting list before getting an apartment, said of the move. “But I came from projects projects—now that I’m here, I don’t want to leave.”

Lucia Velazquez, who has lived in the apartments since they were established in 1971, said last night that the move will spell the end of the Charlesview she is familiar with.

“It will never be Charlesview the way Charlesview is now.”

—Staff writer Natalie I. Sherman can be reached at