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It Takes Two: Harvard and Cambridge Forget Their Differences and Unite to Build Affordable Housing

By Robert K. Silverman, Crimson Staff Writer

Putting aside months of tension, representatives of the University and the city of Cambridge met yesterday to celebrate the purchase of a 65-unit apartment building, funded in part by a Harvard program to expand affordable housing in Cambridge.

Last November, University President Neil L. Rudenstine announced a $20 million initiative to help ease the widespread housing crunch in Boston and Cambridge.

The funding project, known as "20/20/2000," also serves to counter the criticism of local residents and politicians, who say Harvard--the city's largest landholder--ignores residents' concerns when it expands and develops its property.

But yesterday, Rudenstine joined Cambridge Mayor Anthony D. Galluccio, City Manager Robert W. Healy and a host of housing advocates and local politicians to formally announce the purchase of 8-10 Lancaster St., a four-story apartment complex near Porter Square that will be converted to affordable housing--the first purchase made using Harvard funds.

"I'm astounded by what can happen when lots of folks get together and decide to get something done," Rudenstine said at the event. "It demonstrates clearly what can happen when you have the right people at the right time with their eye on the ball."

Dollars and Sense

When Rudenstine announced the 20/20/2000 initiative last year, housing advocates hailed the move as an unprecedented commitment to affordable housing, unmatched by any other private, non-profit institution.

Paul S. Grogan, Harvard's vice president for government, community and public affairs, spearheaded the initiative soon after assuming office in January 1999. He estimated that the $20 million provided by the University could create up to $400 million in housing.

Harvard disbursed its $20 million--split equally between Boston and Cambridge--among three intermediary non-profit organizations, the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust (CAHT), Boston Community Capital and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, who will pass the money on to local community development corporations in the form of low-interest, unrestricted loans.

The intermediaries will loan out and collect the money several times over the 20-year life of the loan, increasing its efficacy, and the allocations will spur other organizations, on the federal, state, and local levels, to provide additional funds, Grogan predicted.

In the purchase of the Lancaster Street property, Harvard funds accounted for $1.5 million of the $11.4 million total price tag, with the city of Cambridge, CAHT, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and East Cambridge Savings Bank making up the remainder.

The building, formerly subject to rent control, contains 48 one-bedroom apartments and 16 studios, all of which will be set aside for low- and moderate-income residents.

Boston and Cambridge politicians say the lack of affordable housing is the most pressing issue facing the metropolitan area, stemming from the end of rent control in 1994 and the current boom in real estate. Over the past five years, Cambridge has lost about 16,000 price-controlled units and Boston about 7,000.

They say Harvard's initiative is particularly helpful because the loans 20/20/2000 provides are unrestricted, allowing community development corporations to help middle-income families, who often do not qualify for federal or state aid.

"The cooperation and contribution of Harvard University helps protect that group of people that often falls between the cracks," Galluccio says. "Harvard has stepped forward with local banks--this is the type of creative financing we need over the next few decades."

Galluccio says he was particularly proud of the Lancaster Street purchase, as he grew up only blocks away from the stately brick walk-up.

"Today we proved the naysayers wrong," he told the crowd gathered at the building's dedication. "It's good to be the mayor of a city that can achieve a victory like this one."

Trouble in the Neighborhood

Yesterday's building dedication, celebrated with rounds of handshakes and laudatory remarks, occurred amidst a period of deep tensions between the University and its home city.

Last spring, Cambridge and Harvard officials traded public barbs, each side blaming the other for impeding progress and being unresponsive.

Members of the City Council, including Galluccio, attacked Harvard's development projects, including the proposed Knafel Center for Government and International Studies on Cambridge Street and a modern art museum on the banks of the Charles, and chided the University for not enacting a living wage of at least $10.25 per hour for all Harvard employees.

"Harvard would like to be perceived as a social partner but [administrators] don't want to have their hands tied in any way," Galluccio said in June. "I don't think they've listened or really understood the advantages of developing a partnership with the city."

Administrators responded by pointing to Harvard's economic and cultural contributions to the community and criticizing Cambridge's decentralized government.

"If it is impossible for the University to be able to get things done, from our point of view [that represents] a strain in town-gown relations," Grogan said.

But city and University officials say yesterday's event helped to improve the pair's often tumultuous relationship.

"We've begun to realize that Harvard's needs and the city's needs aren't that dissimilar," Galluccio says. "Harvard benefits just as much by diversity and neighborhood stability as we do."

Galluccio says the 20/20/2000 initiative marks an effort by the Rudenstine and the University to play a greater role in community affairs.

"The president's presence here today emphasizes his willingness to take part in the process," he said at the conference.

Rudenstine says the University has a "real responsibility" to help Cambridge deal with one of its most difficult problems.

He praises the city officials and community organizers who used Harvard funds to help orchestrate the Lancaster Street purchase.

"Our part is the easy part," he says. "We just help with the financing."

"It has to be a genuine partnership," adds Rudenstine, who met with city officials twice last week, once at a public roundtable discussion and once at an informal lunch with Galluccio. "If Harvard can play a small role in [providing affordable housing], then I'm delighted."

Marjorie C. Decker, one of the city councillors most critical of Harvard in the past, attended yesterday's press conference.

She said afterwards that she was impressed by Harvard's efforts, but that they are the proper steps a good neighbor should take.

"It's a good example of the best of what the University and city can do," she said. "I see it as a responsibility that they have, and it's great that they are doing it."

Celebrate Good Times

More than a 100 area residents, politicians and housing advocates gathered beneath a sunny, cloudless sky at yesterday's dedication, originally postponed because of inclement weather.

Daniel J. Wuenschel, executive director of the Cambridge Housing Authority, served as master of ceremonies at the event, which featured a string of speakers focusing on the need for more affordable housing and praising Harvard's financial commitment.

"A year ago we might be competing with Harvard for this site, but now it's Harvard's help that has made this possible," Wuenschel said.

"It certainly goes a long way to showing us from the town that Harvard is interested in the greater community," he told the Crimson.

Healy, the city's chief executive and managing director of CAHT, has worked closely with Harvard throughout his 30-year tenure as city manager. In his remarks yesterday, he stressed the University's longtime collaborative relationship with Cambridge and singled out Rudenstine, who will resign in June, for special praise.

"It's not [Harvard's] first entrée into affordable housing--they have long been involved," he said. "To you, Mr. President, I want to say thank you for your work in all areas and your collaborative cooperation with the city of Cambridge."

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