Having recently raised $7 BILLION, Harvard University’s endowment is now approaching $40 BILLION! That’s a lot of excess moola for a non profit organization to have on hand (Question: is Harvard a school or a hedge fund?). Despite Harvard’s mind blowing wealth, it has not payed $2.6 million that it owes to Boston through the city’s Payment In Lieu Of Taxes, or PILOT program.
Boston set PILOT up in 2012. It asks the city’s numerous tax exempt, land owning hospitals and colleges (the Meds and Eds), as well as its arts institutions, to voluntarily contribute to pay for city services that they would get tax free. This year, of 19 Eds the city asked to pony up for PILOT, 14 paid far less than the city requested. This despite the fact that, unlike taxable city properties, PILOT program members need only contribute a fraction of the value of their extensive holdings. But cheapskate Harvard and those 14 other schools won’t even do that!
Boston’s colleges and their multitudes of off campus students have contributed to the city’s homelessness problems for decades. Instead of building needed dorms many Eds have “landbanked” their open space for later use, or they put up academic buildings. So they enroll tens of thousands of students who are not provided housing. Boston’s low income residents must then compete with students for housing. It is no wonder that inexpensive SRO units and rooming houses, the last stopgaps for many from homelessness, no longer exist in Boston’s neighborhoods. Those that you can still call neighborhoods that is. The East Fens, Audubon Circle, Bay State Rd., Clearway St., etc., once consisted of private, taxable, homes and apartments. Now most are just tax free, campus extensions of N.U., B.U., H.U. and so on.
Last Spring, nine Boston City Councilors strongly endorsed our coalition groups proposal for a $5 million city funded housing voucher program to house 400 homeless Bostonians. The Council appealed to the Mayor for the voucher program calling the need “overwhelmingly evident” and that “for many families and individuals in Boston, the pressing need for affordable housing can not wait.”
Paraphrasing in part here, the Council added:
- there are 38,000 people on the Boston Housing Authority’s waitlist and almost 4,000 homeless Students in Boston Public Schools, so the City needs creative solutions.
- as the federal government retreats from its responsibilities, Boston needs to step up for its own.
- the Mayor should move with urgency to establish the voucher program on a sustainable, recurring basis.
In June, our groups met with Mayor Walsh on the plan. His concern? The city lacks the money. Yet, If Megabucks Harvard paid the $2.6 million it owes this year to the PILOT program that revenue could fund half of the housing voucher program! That is housing for 200 homeless! If all the college scofflaws ponied up the $12 million they owe this year, plus the million still owed by the city’s medical and arts institutions, that could fund vouchers for about a THOUSAND of the city’s homeless!
Boston needs the PILOT program revenue! Its homeless desperately need housing!