How Menino has mishandled Harvard & Charlesview

Why are residents of Allston and Brighton, including residents of Charlesview, becoming more public and visible to voice our concerns with Harvard's expansion, the Harvard-Charlesview land swap, and years of neglect at Charlesview?

It's because over the past several years the Menino Administration has repeatedly made serious errors that have harmed the quality of life for residents of Charlesview and people throughout North Allston and North Brighton. We may never know why he chose to do, or not do, these things, but recent reports make clear that if it involves development in the city of Boston, the decisions are being made at the desk of Tom Menino.

1) Where was Menino during years of mismanagement at Charlesview?

In 1995, the HUD District Inspector General wrote this memo to the State's Office of Housing. He found that:

"The project has not raised rents since 1991 and, therefore, is not generating sufficient income for repairs. The project currently needs over $3 million for repairs"

"Due to lack of cash flow, the project delayed critical repairs. Physical inspections demonstrate a steady decline in the project's physical condition"

"The Regulatory Agreement requires the owners to keep the project in good repair and condition. It is clear that the Regulatory Agreement is not being followed and the project is deteriorating."

Tom Menino became Mayor of Boston in 1993, and it shouldn't have been much of a secret that Charlesview was deteriorating. Why didn't he do anything about it?

2) Why does the Mayor's review process disenfranchise the residents of Charlesview?

In 2005, the Charlesview Residents Organization wrote this urgent letter asking "who is working on behalf of the residents?" and insisting that their organization "be at the table to ensure that the residents' welfare is protected". Mayor Menino received a copy of this letter, and what did he do about it?

In 2006, the president of the Charlesview Residents Organization asked, "Why is everything kept in secret? Why have you ignored our wishes?"

In 2008, Mayor Menino selected residents of Allston and Brighton to serve on the Impact Advisory Group for the City's review of the proposal. He could have make sure that Charlesview residents would be directly represented. But instead he created an IAG without a single resident of Charlesview.

3) Why hasn't the Mayor done more to improve living conditions for the 500+ residents at Charlesview?

A Harvard Crimson story in 2003 described Charlesview as in need of “absolute repair".

In June 2008, the BRA was informed that Charlesview received a failing grade on its inspection by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

To this day, residents of Charlesview continue to describe poor living conditions, rodents, leaks, and more. For these many years, where have Boston's housing inspectors been?

Boston requires property owners to get newly rented apartments inspected within 45 days of rental and certified by the Housing Inspection Division to bring rental units into compliance with the State Sanitary Code. In this brochure, Menino writes

"As mayor of Boston, I want to ensure that tenants and landlords of residential rental properties are treated fairly and that safe sanitary housing is available in all neighborhoods."

For the last 16 years, why hasn't Menino been ensuring that residents of Charlesview have safe and sanitary housing?

4) Does the Mayor support economic segregation in a new Charlesview?

A recent Harvard publication states that "the clustering of lowest-income and assisted renter households imposes a host of social and economic disadvantages on these groups". But in spite of this widespread understanding about what works and what doesn't work, Menino's BRA has allowed the submission of a radically segregated proposal for the new Charlesview

This proposal includes 260 low-income apartments massed together next to a shopping center parking lot. On the other side of Western Ave, 74 market-rate condo are proposed overlooking the Charles River. The contrast between the "haves" and the "have nots" could not be more stark.

5) Why does the Mayor ignore the needs of Allston/Brighton for a more stable and invested community?

Allston and Brighton need more homeownership, as we have one of the state's lowest homeownership rates and too many absentee landlords with little stake in our quality of life. But instead of working with Harvard to address this, the Mayor's BRA is pushing a Charlesview proposal with only 26 homeownership units around the edge of the 260 apartments at the Brighton Mills site.

6) Why does the Mayor's BRA fail to keep promises made to the residents of North Allston and North Brighton?

Dozens of residents attended dozens of meetings to work with the BRA and Harvard on the 2005 North Allston Strategic Framework for Planning.

This vague, though superficially attractive, document was published with a cover letter signed by Mayor Menino. The Framework promised 2 follow-up studies, one of which would focus on the 30 acre Holton Street Corridor, a swath of poorly-designed and under-used commercial and industrial space between Western Ave and the Mass Pike.

After three years of stalling by the BRA, planning for the Holton Street Corridor finally began in 2008. But by then, Harvard had preempted the public planning process by signing a agreement with the Charlesview Board in 2007 for a land-swap to relocate the Charlesview Apartments into the Corridor.

During BRA planning meetings in 2008 and 2009, residents repeatedly asked the BRA to discuss the homeownership/rental balance of new construction in the Holton Street Corridor, ratios and physical integration of housing for people of all income levels, and the location of new civic buildings (such as a K-8 elementary school). Staff of Menino's BRA continually deferred these issues and then, in the summer of 2009, declared that the planning was complete before any of these subjects had been properly addressed.

7) Why is Menino's BRA so secretive?

For more than a year, residents of Allston and Brighton and their elected officials have asked Menino's BRA to provide more transparency into the planning and financing of the Charlesview relocation. The BRA has consistently refused to provide requested information and the BRA has failed to fully comply with three Public Records Law requests filed in the past two months.

Just imagine, all this from a Mayor who said earlier this year "We're more transparent than Saran Wrap."

8) Why is Menino's BRA even considering approving a project that may lack financing to complete construction and maintain the property after it is built?

Considering the maintenance problems at the current Charlesview and the aborted construction projects in Allston and throughout Boston, how is it possible that a new project can be seriously considered without solid proof that the developer will have the money to build it right and maintain the property after construction is complete?

In April 2008, the BRA required that "assurances must be clear, exact, and extensively detailed in the DPIR as to how the Proposed Project, if approved, will be maintained to avoid and minimize future neglect."

But July 2009, the BRA allowed the developer to submit a DPIR that contains no such information. Specific requests to the BRA and developer for information about construction financing have been ignored.

To make matters worse, at a September 15 public meeting, Menino's Chief Planner publicly questioned the project's financing and the developer's ability to complete a project of this size.

1 comment:

  1. Here's another problem with the mayor's performance:
    9) Why hasn't Mayor Menino stood up to Harvard and demanded it stop mothballing its land purchases in Allston and Brighton? Why doesn't he insist Harvard follow through with its commitments to help build a stronger neighborhood with the land it keeps relentlessly acquiring? Why won't he require Harvard to move forward with developing the whole Holton Street corridor along with Charlesview instead of offering us tiny parcels in exchange for our support? If he won't stand up for a Boston neighborhood in the face of this huge institutional threat, why don't we elect a mayor who will?