Swing Housing Forces Relocation of Prescott Street Residents

Jennifer Y Yao

Tenants of 20-20A Prescott Street and 22-24 Prescott Street were notified that their apartments would be closed beginning in 2014 in order to accommodate displaced undergraduates.

Two Harvard-owned apartment buildings on Prescott Street are slated to become part of swing housing for students during the next wave of House Renewal, forcing current residents to relocate.

Residents of 20-20A and 22-24 Prescott Street must vacate their units by Feb. 1, 2014, according to a letter from Harvard University Housing. The buildings will be used for Dunster swing housing in 2014.

During its Monday night meeting, the City Council reviewed a complaint letter from a Ware Street resident, who protested the University’s decision to turn apartment buildings into swing space for the College and calling on the Council to intervene.

By unanimous consent, the Council referred the matter to the city’s University Relations Committee for further investigation.

According to the complaint letter, the two buildings on Prescott Street account for a total of 80 apartments.

“The overall reduction in the number of available housing units in the city, especially in [the] Harvard Square area, evokes all the problems attendant upon a real-life version of the game of musical chairs,” the letter reads.

The letter expressed particular concern for tenants living in rent control units.

Even though the state of Massachusetts eliminated rent control in 1996, Harvard still had several tenants leasing rent controlled units. When the city of Cambridge questioned Harvard about the fate of these tenants, the University decided to allow them to remain in a rent control system.

“Under the swing housing program, each of the tenants of the seven former rent control units are being assisted with finding equivalent housing in another Harvard-owned facility at the same rent as they were paying previously,” Harvard spokesperson Jeff Neal wrote in an emailed statement to The Crimson. “In addition to helping these tenants find another unit in the Harvard University Housing portfolio, Harvard will also reimburse these tenants for moving-related expenses.”

Of these tenants, those who wish to lease in buildings outside of the Harvard University Housing portfolios will also receive assistance from Harvard in finding other housing, Neal wrote.

Harvard is giving all residents first pick in lotteries for Harvard-owned units.

But residents said that they are worried because housing is not guaranteed.

“It’s like a competition because all the people who live here [in this building] are looking for Harvard Housing,” Prescott Street resident Alejandra Bueno said. Bueno, who lives with three roommates, said that she is also worried about finding good housing for four people.

Bronwyn C. Roantree, a College Fellow in the Committee on the Study of Religion, has been living on Prescott Street for the past six years.

“It’s a disruption for me, but it’s not traumatic,” Roantree said. “The people whom I am most concerned about...are older and have been living here for 35, 40 years.”

—Staff writer Laya Anasu can be reached at layaanasu@college.harvard.edu. You can follow her on Twitter @layaanasu.

—Staff writer Sonali Y. Salgado can be reached at ssalgado@college.harvard.edu. You can follow her on Twitter @SonaliSalgado16.

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