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As Harvard Development Continues, Allston Residents Worry About Neighborhood Stability, Affordability

Harvard's future Enterprise Research Campus in Allston, now in the planning stage, will include residential buildings, green space, and public-art pieces.
Harvard's future Enterprise Research Campus in Allston, now in the planning stage, will include residential buildings, green space, and public-art pieces. By Brendan J. Chapuis
By Maribel Cervantes and James R. Jolin, Crimson Staff Writers

As the University forges ahead with construction in Allston, some residents said they are worried about how the new projects — the Enterprise Research Campus and a development at 180 Western Ave. — will impact neighborhood stability and affordability.

Anthony P. D’Isidoro — a member of the Harvard-Allston Task Force and president of the Allston Civics Association — said that affordable home ownership is among his chief concerns.

Allston has a reputation of being a “transient community,” where people come for education and then move out to the suburbs to buy a home, according to D’Isidoro.

He said he hopes new developments will help “reverse these negative trends” and provide more “stability” in Allston.

“We need more home ownership opportunities,” D’Isidoro said. “We don’t need investors to come in; we need residents who are here for the long haul.”

Despite reviewing plans for the development as a member of the Task Force, D’Isidoro said he has not seen Harvard’s “long term vision” for “affordable home ownership.”

“If they’re serious about doing things to benefit our community, and to ensure long term viability and sustainability of our community, we would have missed out on a major opportunity, if they think it’s all going to be rental,” he said.

Harvard spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke wrote in an email that the University “actively supports” initiatives aimed at promoting “affordable and diverse” housing and homeownership opportunities throughout the region.

In 2019, the University recommitted $20 million to a project to augment affordable housing options in Greater Boston. In 2016, Harvard partnered with the All Bright Homeownership Program, an organization that promotes “homeownership stabilization through the use of deed restrictions,” per the program’s website.

Some members of the Harvard-Allston Task Force said they wanted to see the University push to increase the proportion of affordable units from the minimum of 13 percent, as mandated by zoning laws in Boston.

“What I would like to see is Harvard put money towards increasing the percent of affordable units through the city’s inclusionary development policy,” task force member Christine A. Varriale said.

“Everybody on the Harvard-Allston Task Force and everybody in the community that I’ve spoken to — they want 20 percent,” she added. “There shouldn’t be any wiggle room there.”

Aside from home ownership, D’Isidoro said he believes the pandemic will impact the desirability of the compact units at the 180 Western Ave. development.

“I still believe that all this polling that they did to look at compact living in the city was done before the pandemic, and a lot of young people said, ‘Yeah, if it results in better affordability, I can live in a 450-square-foot apartment,’” D’Isidoro said. “I think those feelings have changed because people want open space; people want balconies; people want larger kitchens, because they’re staying at home more.”

Brent Whelan ’73, a member of the task force who has lived in Allston for 40 years, said he noticed rent was increasing beyond the means of the “modest, solid working family.”

Whelan also said he believes the development at 180 Western Ave. does not cater to working-class families.

“Fairly expensive, residential rental structures that are mostly studio and one bedroom apartments. They’re therefore clearly intended for single adults or couples, but never families,” Whelan said.

“Even at the affordable rates, they will not be affordable for the people who have typically lived in Allston over the last couple of generations. And so it’ll continue this gentrification process,” he added.

In a meeting of the Harvard-Allston Task Force in January, developer Samuels and Associates said they could not determine a fixed rent price. Julia Wynyard, vice president of development at Samuels and Associates, said prices would be influenced by “market rate forces” at that time.

Harry Mattison, an Allston resident, said he questions whether the new housing developments will help Allston continue to be “diverse economically [and] diverse racially.”

“A good neighborhood has a mix of housing types for a mix of people,” Mattison said. “I think one of the disappointments about what Harvard has built so far in Barry’s Corner is just the price points are way out of reach for the vast majority of people.”

Nonetheless, D’Isidoro said he sees a bright future for Allston with the new developments, but only if there is also sufficient input from its residents.

“I’m more optimistic than most,” he said. “As long as we continue to have a very active and involved community in the process, I think things will turn out just fine.”

— Staff writer Maribel Cervantes can be reached at maribel.cervantes@thecrimson.com.

— Staff writer James R. Jolin can be reached at james.jolin@thecrimson.com.

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