After three years of negotiations, Harvard has finally purchased the last parcel of land at Barry’s Corner, an intersection that Harvard planners have said they hope will be the “Harvard Square of Allston.” Earlier this week, Harvard finalized its land swap deal with the owners of the Charlesview apartments, a low-income housing complex that currently sits the land.
Because of its central location in the projected Allston campus, the purchase is a critical and exciting step for Harvard. As part of the exchange, Harvard will build brand new replacement housing units on a nearby parcel of land, a prospect about which many residents currently seem pleased. We are aware, however, that the negotiation process was not always smooth, particularly in its early days. Harvard’s final deal with Charlesview shows that Harvard has improved considerably in working with an awareness of the needs of the Charlesview residents and the Allston community.
The benefit of this deal to Harvard is clear: The University now owns a piece of land that is central to its vision for Allston. But the Charlesview residents stand to gain as well. The current buildings are in need of serious renovation, and most of the 213 units are not handicap accessible. Although the federal government pointed out the need for repair in 1995, it would have proved to be an exorbitantly expensive undertaking, costing millions. Harvard’s offer to build 213 replacement low-income apartments plus additional mixed-income units that may be for sale, rather than rent, should thus be a welcome opportunity.
Residents of Charlesview have raised concerns throughout the negotiation process, particularly because Harvard was speaking with Charlesview’s board of directors and not the residents themselves. A primary concern in the negotiations was that the new location would not offer residents the same access to public transportation that they currently use. That these concerns seem to have been overcome is a positive sign for Harvard’s future engagement with the Allston community.
Moving forward, Harvard should make a point of soliciting input from the current Charlesview residents to understand their concerns, which may not be obvious to Harvard’s planners. Although the deal is now signed, Harvard’s commitment to the community, including the residents of Charlesview, has not disappeared. We hope that, in the coming months and years, the University continues to build its new campus in Allston in a socially-conscious manner that benefits everyone.