Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Imagine a 17,970-square-foot, classic brownstone in Central Square convenient to public transportation that since 1965 has been housing a number of nonprofit organizations serving thousands of clients, from survivors of sexual violence to young adults living with severe chronic disease, to supporting affordable summer camps and math literacy for youth, as well as uplifting families living in poverty. Now imagine asking these organizations, with more than 170 staff, interns, volunteers, youth camp and math literacy workers, to find a new place to operate. This may well happen, but at what price to the organizations and Cambridge residents? As we watch the tech and biotech giants of the world chew up blocks of space in Cambridge, the community risks losing ready access to social services and we have to ask: Is there space left in the city for nonprofits?

Enroot, formerly Cambridge Community Services, owner of the building at 93-99 Bishop Allen Drive since the mid-1960s, announced last fall that it would be selling the property. Enroot works with English language learning students so they can succeed in school and beyond, and is selling the building to raise money so it can serve more students. That makes sense for Enroot, and we wish the organization well with its incredibly worthy work.

But for the nonprofits leasing office space from Enroot, many for decades, the prospect of finding new space in Central Square – or elsewhere in Cambridge – is daunting. We face two equally challenging obstacles: finding space with proximity to public transportation so clients can get to our services and employees can get to work; and raising funds to buy or lease new space. Few organizations, much less nonprofits, have the financial reserves necessary to finance an unexpected move, and market rates for rentals are more than double many of the leases in our building.

That’s why we have been heartened by the efforts of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority to make a competitive offer to buy the CCS building at 93-99 Bishop Allen Drive and continue leasing to nonprofit organizations. We have also been encouraged by our many conversations with city councillors, City Manager Louis A. DePasquale, Mayor Marc McGovern and others, including business leaders, who understand the value that nonprofit organizations bring to Central Square and the city.

We all serve residents of Cambridge, and some of our innovative strategies and services reach folks in Greater Boston and across the nation. Our employees shop and dine in Central Square. Our organizational leaders participate in civic life. The nickname for the CCS brownstone building at 93-99 Bishop Allen Drive is “nonprofit row,” as the property has functioned as a “WeWork” space, supporting and caring for those in need, for the past 54 years. We’re proud of that legacy.

Enroot is accepting offers for 93-99 Bishop Allen Drive through the second week of April. We hope the nonprofit gives deep and serious consideration to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority’s plan to retain the building for nonprofit use, despite the lure of top-dollar developers. We also hope the people of Cambridge will make their voices heard in support of keeping the nonprofit legacy of the CCS building at 93-99 Bishop Allen for the benefit of the community. We all have invested in the communities and City of Cambridge. This has been a mutually beneficial arrangement, as the city has helped enable nonprofits thrive in their service to the community.

We are hopeful this partnership can continue.

Gina Scaramella, executive director, Boston Area Rape Crisis Center
Sharon Zimmerman, executive director, Cambridge Camping
Laury Hammel, executive director, Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts
Benjamin Moynihan, director of operations, The Algebra Project
Maisha Moses, executive director, The Young People’s Project
Ivy Moylan, Brattle Film Foundation
Laurie Stach, LaunchX