Friday, May 24, 2024

Lesley University, based in Porter Square, is tax-excempt and pays nothing in lieu of taxes, unlike Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the city manager says. (Photo: theocean)

Cambridge College, Lesley University and Mount Auburn Hospital, which do not pay taxes for the property they own in Cambridge, also make no annual payments in lieu of taxes, City Manager Robert W. Healy noted Monday during a City Council discussion of how to get more money from such tax-exempt institutions.

“We do send letters regularly to nonprofits requesting payments to the city based on some calculations of land area,” Healy said. “They’re not extremely successful.”

Attention focused on such giants as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when the issue arose first at the previous week’s meeting, stemming from Boston’s own mailing of letters to its many tax-exempt institutions to ask from each PILOT of a quarter of what they would pay in taxes.

Still, representing a council generally dissatisfied with the amount coming in from city schools, churches and other nonprofits, Vice mayor Henrietta Davis and city councillor Denise Simmons issued a policy order asking the city manager to review the matter locally.

But at least Harvard and the institute pay — their most recent payments totaling $5.1 million — and increase the amount each year by 2.5 percent, Healy said. And the schools have agreed that if they buy land and cause it to be taken off city tax rolls, the subtraction of that tax money is phased in over five years. The agreements have been in place for 15 to 20 years.

The letters the city sends to tax-exempt institutions who also haven’t been sending nontax payments suggest they pay 22 cents per each square foot of property, Healy said.

“I don’t see that any entity is going to have huge successes beyond what we’ve had,” Healy said. In his experience in Cambridge, it’s easy to send letters, but “collecting the bills is a whole other matter … There’s no way to compel the payments.”

Gateway Inn taking guests

In other news: The Cambridge Gateway Inn, the motel greeting drivers on Route 2 headed East into the city, is a motel once more and not a shelter for homeless families, said Ellen Semonoff, assistant city manager for Human Services.

Over the past couple of years the motel filled to capacity with the homeless, placed there by the state at regular room rates, who could stay for three months at a time. The cause was a worsening economy that filled regular family shelters and caused the number of families staying in motels such the Gateway Inn to rise from a few dozen to more than 1,100, Semonoff said. It was always a temporary solution for a long-term problem, though, and by the time of the January 2010 homeless census there had already been “a 48 percent decrease (from 73 to 38) in the number of homeless metro-Boston families temporarily sheltered by the state at the Cambridge Gateway Inn.”

“The Gateway is now being used as the motel it was before,” Semonoff told councillors on Monday.