The Harriet Tubman House in Boston,” Lee Wright

December 11, 2019; Boston Globe

In the South End of Boston, which has become increasingly chi-chi and expensive, sits the Harriet Tubman House, previously owned by United South End Settlements (USES). The building was a community cornerstone, home to a well-known multi-service agency. Its location on the South End/Lower Roxbury Line was convenient to many storied low-income neighborhoods. But the organization found itself in increasingly serious financial straits, reflected in rapidly diminishing reserves. It needed to sell, but local residents worried about their loss of the space to yet another high-priced condominium development.

And indeed, USES did end up selling to development firm New Boston Ventures, which plans to convert the building into condos. Some neighbors are crying foul, reminding the city that the site was originally sold to USES by the city specifically for use as a community center. They argue that the commitment to low-income residents in the increasingly wealthy area should be honored.

“The center serves a function which Boston needs to support—a place where diverse individuals can seek the education, support and neighborhood relations that are critical to the life of a city,” wrote Massachusetts Avenue resident Lloyd Fillion in a letter to the BPDA opposing the sale. “What the South End does not need are more market-rate condos.”

The condo building will contain some space for a community center and, in a neighborhood known in part for its vibrant arts scene, 11 units of affordable artist housing.

USES, of course, is only one of a number of nonprofits in the Boston area selling their buildings to bolster their financial health. The combination of the infusion of capital from a sale in Boston’s overpriced real estate market and the dumping of the carrying costs of the facility can be highly attractive.

The issue will come to a head tonight at Boston City Hall at a hearing of the Boston Planning and Development Agency.—Ruth McCambridge