Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The city manager responded April 11 about buying property from Lesley University, responding to a City Council goal of finding space for “priorities from pre-K to green space to housing.” That was intended to look at the “feasibility” and “in a timely manner as Lesley University moves forward with their campus plans.” Yet it took 175 days to report back – not on the feasibility, but that Lesley University had agreed to sell 1627 Massachusetts Ave. to Homeowners Rehab Inc. “so that HRI can create new affordable housing there.”

The report said that “Community Development Department staff worked with local affordable housing builders.” But how and why was HRI chosen to buy and develop that property? More importantly, why didn’t CDD staff work with the community and other stakeholders to determine if several buildings offered for sale by Lesley could be used for that “range of priorities”?

If the city manager reported back sooner – say, within 10 business days – on all the properties Lesley was willing to sell, it would have given the City Council the opportunity to authorize purchase of all those properties, just like it spent $18.5 million for a friendly land taking of the 4-acre Buckingham Field in West Cambridge. Then the city could have formulated a master plan to develop all these properties together, holistically, with all the stakeholders. We could have created much-needed affordable housing, open space, cultural event sites, pre-K sites and more with a vision to create a vibrant city we would be proud to leave to future generations.

In a nutshell, where is the transparency and accountability in the city’s negotiation with Lesley and in the Affordable Housing Trust’s financing of this acquisition? As Yogi Berra said, it is déjà vu all over again with the memories of 2072 Massachusetts Ave. – bought for Chapter 40B affordable-housing development by Capstone Communities and Hope Real Estate Enterprises – fresh on our minds.

Young Kim, Norris Street