Campus & Community

Medical center and affordable housing are result of swap

3 min read

Harvard University joined Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the nonprofit tenants’ organization Roxbury Tenants at Harvard in an unusual three-way land-swap agreement that will make way for a new medical center while preserving affordable housing in Boston’s Mission Hill neighborhood.

The complex agreement involves the transfer of 53 properties and the moving of six buildings, as well as the clearing of a lot to the west of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital to make way for a new 10-story, 350,000-square-foot medical center to be built by that institution. As part of the agreement, Harvard Medical School sold 31 homes at a favorable rate to Roxbury Tenants at Harvard (RTH), the community development corporation that had already been managing those properties for low- and moderate-income residents. This sale will ensure that these properties remain affordable.

“This transaction reflects two of Harvard Medical School’s and Dean Joseph Martin’s top priorities: to build strong collaborative relationships with HMS’s affiliate hospitals and to make meaningful contributions to the Boston community in which we’re located,” said Paul Levy, executive dean for administration at HMS.

At the center of the real estate transaction was a block of homes and vacant lots bordered by Francis, Binney, and Vining streets that Brigham and Women’s, a Harvard Medical School teaching facility, had been eyeing for much-needed space. To make room for the Center for Advanced Medicine, six three-family homes in that block owned by RTH will be moved to a location about one block away; Harvard Medical School sold that lot to Brigham and Women’s, which transferred it to RTH, as part of this deal. The families living in these homes will be moved to temporary housing in the area until the house moving, which will begin in September, is complete.

“No single part of this transaction was going to go forward unless all three parts went forward simultaneously,” said Eric Buehrens, associate dean for planning and facilities at HMS and Harvard’s negotiator of this chesslike deal.

Michael Schneider, executive director of RTH, called Harvard’s sale of properties to RTH “equivalent to a Declaration of Independence for the more than 3,000 residents who live in Mission Park and adjacent neighborhoods.” With the properties completely owned and controlled by RTH, the organization can ensure that they will remain affordable for 100 years. “We’ll have full control of our own destiny,” said Schneider.

Harvard has made affordable housing in its host communities a priority. In 1999, the University launched Harvard 20/20/2000, making available $20 million in low-interest loans to help community organizations secure and renovate new affordable housing units in Boston and Cambridge.