Monday, June 09, 2008

BC Continues Buying Spree With Two-Family House on Lane Park

Boston College continued its recent buying spree with a purchase on Friday of the two-family house at 26 Lane Park for $740,000, a property that is one lot away from being a direct abutter to the eastern side of the former St. John's Seminary land purchased by BC in 2004 (map).

The difference between this purchase and previous ones is that neighbors on Lane Park requested that BC purchase this house because it was an student-occupied, absentee-landlord house that in the last few years had gotten completely out-of-hand.

The university's pursuit of housing stock, however, worries other Brighton residents about BC's further encroachment into the residential neighborhood.


Hard Partying Ruining Life For Lane Park Residents

What might drive those Brighton residents to ask BC to buy the house?

According to several Lane Park residents contacted for this story, the 10-12 students who had been occupying the house in each of the last few years were hard partyers who regularly ruined the quality of life for the street. They received a full-house warning from the university, yet kept on with the parties on Wednesdays-Sundays. The students regularly climbed over and damaged a neighbors stone wall in order to pass through his yard on their shortcut to Greycliff Road. They drove the wrong-way on one-way Lane Park. It looked like some students were living, presumably against code, in both the basement and attic. And, despite all the Lane Park neighbors attempts, they say they couldn't get the property manager, Jamie Lebowitz, to control the students.

When this year's students moved out recently they not only dumped their furniture on the sidewalk but also left all the house's doors open. At least when a fire alarm inside went off last week the responders had no difficulty gaining access to the vacant house to shut it off.

Those Lane Park residents joined with the rest of the neighborhood earlier this year to push for BC to house 100% of its undergraduates in on-campus dormitories. Even if BC decided to build sufficient dormitories, however, it would be many years before the buildings would be complete -- and the Lane Park residents wanted to be able to sleep at night before then.

Early in 2008, the neighbors approached Thomas Keady, Jr., BC's Vice President for Governmental and Community Affairs, asked that BC consider purchasing the house, and gave BC the owner's phone number. Their reason was that the house was so perpetually out-of-control that the neighbors were desperate for some relief. Ownership by BC -- along with faculty or graduate student tenants -- would be preferable to the student partying. BC subsequently made owner Craig Lebowitz an unsolicited offer on the house.

As the Lane Park residents see it, when BC agreed to purchase the house they were "actually providing a solution, not just generating the problem."

Not all Brighton residents see it that way. "The [neighborhood's] plan has always been to get the students onto campus," said Theresa Hynes of Hatherly Road. "BC is now getting the residents onto their campus by extending their campus to Lane Park and other stable neighborhoods."

The BC Task Force has, in the past, expressed similar opposition to BC's practice of purchasing residential housing stock in the area. The task force wrote a letter to BC in 2004 asking the university to stop:
Given the continuing housing crisis influencing the community, the Task Force is opposed to expansion that would result in losing residential housing stock. For example, we do not want a repetition of College Road and Hammond Street in Newton (where the college has purchased many homes) to occur on Lake Street and Foster Street in Brighton.
The house at 26 Lane Park is the only one on the long, looped street that is absentee landlord and fully occupied by only students. While a number of other houses along the street house students, they are owner-occupied -- whose owners choose their tenants carefully, maintain order, and therefore don't cause problems with the other neighbors. Number 26 stuck out on a relatively quiet street. (Two houses at the intersection with Foster Street, having Foster Street addresses 249 and 251, are also among the list of 39 "problem houses" whose tenants' behavior has been extensively tracked by the Radnor Neighborhood Association.)

BC's new house on Lane Park has apparently been well-maintained by the owner prior to Craig Lebowitz, and the few years of student rentals appear not to have damaged the house substantially. The neighbors do not appear to have a firm commitment from the university to who will reside at the house, but they say they have been told that junior faculty or visiting faculty are likely, while graduate students are also possible.

The unfortunate outcome of BC's recent house purchase, however, is that this fall those 10-12 off-campus students will have to live somewhere else -- presumably along the street of some different Brighton residents.


Is BC's Pattern of House Buying Continuing Into Brighton?

BC has been steadily acquiring residential housing stock in Newton, particularly on College Road, Hammond Street, Old Mayflower Road, and Mayflower Road. The College Road properties are slated for demolition and re-development in the university's long-range plan of 2006-7.

Is this practice of buying residential housing stock now being replicated in Brighton?

In the last several years BC has purchased three houses at 18-24-30 Wade Street [30 at right] and conducted extensive renovations last summer in order to use the properties for faculty housing. The manager of 26 Lane Park also owns at least one house on Wade Street, which is listed as owner-occupied.

In 2004-6 they also acquired three 19th-century houses at 188-192-196 Foster Street -- all listed on the National Register of Historic Places -- which the university proposes to demolish (rather than preserve) to make way for Jesuit seminarian and theological graduate student housing. Lane Park is a side street off of Foster Street to the south of these properties.

More recently, BC appears to have won the bidding at around $68 million for the 16-story apartment building at 2000 Commonwealth Avenue, which contains approximately 190 apartment units.

With BC's most recent purchase on Lane Park, there appears to be no end in sight for their buying spree.

All of these purchases are remarkable in that, with the exception of two of the Foster Street houses, they are in addition to the $173.400001 million that BC spent in 2004-7 to purchase 65 acres (and many buildings on them) of the St. John's Seminary land from the Archdiocese of Boston. Last year BC took out a $177 million tax-exempt bond to fund part of the land purchase and the construction of academic buildings on the main campus. But BC also has to figure out a way to pay for all the new buildings and athletics facilities they want to build on the new land, which they estimate at $800 million in construction costs over the next 10 years.

These expenditures constitute a large fraction of their $1.75 billion endowment. BC looks to be maxing out their credit cards. A good question for the banking industry is whether or not all this spending might impact their bond rating thereby making their borrowing more expensive.

6 comments:

Adam said...

Good for BC. A house BC owns and uses to house faculty is still paying property tax and will have people living there who walk to work and therefore don't add traffic to the streets. Those two factors should make this a positive.

The 2000 Comm Ave purchase only makes sense if you look at it from the angle of: BC needs more dormitory space and it's easier to buy a pre-built building than go through the permitting process that is currently has building on campus on hold. I see the short-term benefit of owning the structure, but not the long-term benefits. Would be interesting if they sold it back to Archstone in 10 years.

Michael Pahre said...

Adam,

While what you say may be true in the short-term about the 26 Lane Park, what worries at least some Brighton residents (as noted in the story) is not the short-term usage -- but that the house would, a few years down the road, turn be converted into institutional use, and then torn down altogether and turned into something larger.

Think of the College Road model: houses bought some years ago; now occupied by administrators and staff; and the long-range plan envisions demolishing the houses and turning them into student housing.

Shelby said...

Mike,

I object to some of the language in your article, and I need to provide your readers with more information and context.

I live on Lane Park, and I would much rather have BC put adults and families into 26 Lane Park -- and take responsibility for it -- than let it continue as a problem-racked student house. But I do not for a moment think that, as you put it, “this fall those 10-12 off-campus students will have to live somewhere else -- presumably along the street of some different Brighton residents.” There is no doubt those students will end up in another house in my neighborhood, the few blocks on either side of upper Foster Street. Perhaps they’ll be in one of the 6 student houses I see from my front door. Or perhaps they’ll be in one of the 8 houses I hear from my back door. But at least they won’t be 3 houses away on my short, narrow street.

You and your readers need to understand the severity of our situation. Our neighborhood comprises the area from Comm. Ave down Foster Street to the Foster Street Rock, and from Greycliff Rd. across to South Street. More than 40 houses in our neighborhood are owned by absentee landlords and filled with undergrads -- as many as 9 students in an apartment (which means as many as 18 people in a 2-family house).

Almost every house that's been sold in the last few years has been snatched up by an investor who crams students into it and puts as little maintenance into it as possible. About 30% of our housing stock is student houses. At this point, only three houses on Gerald Rd. are not student houses. The short stretch of Foster St. near Lane Park and Rose Garden has 7 student houses. Radnor Rd. is packed with students.

We estimate that close to 500 BC students -- almost 40% of the total off-campus population -- lives in our neighborhood.

Our neighborhood is unique in this way -- fortunately for everyone else. So really, let’s be honest. Those displaced students won’t end up bothering Theresa Hynes or you or people in Oak Square. All of you do indeed live in “stable neighborhoods,” as Theresa put it. Our neighborhood is under severe threat.

That's why we are pushing for BC to house 100% of their students, and why we have been working with the College over the last few years to increase their enforcement and punishment of off-campus students.

The topic of housing 100% of undergrads brings me to one of the themes of your article -- BC’s “buying spree.” You lump together the purchases on College Rd., Wade St., Lane Park, Foster St., and 2000 Comm. Ave. as though they are all examples of a single policy. But they are all different.

The Foster St. houses are part of the large purchase of the Seminary property. 2000 Comm. Ave is a unique purchase, intended to turn an apartment building that is now 40% filled with students -- an unsupervised semi-dorm -- into a supervised dorm. At least some of the College Rd. houses are used for administration. Wade St. and Lane Park will be, as you noted, faculty and possibly grad students.

The concern that you and some others have -- that the purchase on Lane Park will follow the College Rd. model -- presupposes that people living on Lane Park will sell their houses to BC. I can assure you that will not happen. For one thing, we don’t want to. But aside from that, once the students are out of the neighborhood we won’t have any reason to. Nobody here prefers BC to owner-occupiers. We simply prefer BC to the absentee landlords who overpay for houses that they then fill with students. Get rid of the students, and we get rid of the problem.

My last point is this: People in my neighborhood have suffered the brunt of off-campus student housing for years, with all of the ills that come with it, while people living elsewhere have told us to stand together with the larger community to fight BC’s expansion -- and we have done so. Yet you all miss a critical truth. Even though BC as an institution has not encroached into Brighton yet, BC students are already here, and by “here” I mean in the few blocks around me. It’s time that the larger community stood in unity with the people in my neighborhood -- because whether 100 or 1000 students end up off-campus, this is the first place they'll go.

Michael Pahre said...

Hi Shelby,

Thank you for your extensive and thoughtful comments. Your many points are well-taken.

-Mike

Jennifer S. said...

As a recent BC graduate (2007) and a former resident of 299 Foster St., I'd like to bring a slightly different perspective to the discussion. I can certainly see why residents are frustrated with students living in their once-quiet neighborhoods - the college lifestyle certainly is at odds with those of professionals and families. However, BC does not currently have an alternative location to house these students. Upon acceptance to BC, students are presented with either 3 or 4 years of on-campus housing. (The year off campus is overwhelmingly junior year.) For that year, students have no choice but to move off campus into the neighborhoods near campus, Cleveland Circle, or farther down Comm Ave.

BC is at capacity in terms of housing and there is no other place on campus to build dorms. In the 10 year plan, BC wants to be able to provide housing to 100% of students. If this were an option, I can guarantee you that students would choose to live on campus rather than off. The process of finding (vastly over-priced, poorly-maintained) apartments and providing furnishings is very overwhelming for students and their parents. The BC social community really centers around campus as well - another incentive for students to live on campus.

However, residents seem to have a problem with BC building as well. The recent purchase of Brighton campus has been met with a lot of anger from residents and politicians. I realize this is an emotionally fraught issue for residents wishing to protect their families and properties from some drunken students, but what do you think BC's best course of action is here? The sentiment seems to be that students shouldn't live off-campus, but BC shouldn't expand campus either.

BC is an excellent school with a lot of wonderful, intelligent, generous and thoughtful students. There are always a few kids who push it and act disrespectfully, but the overall character of the school is very positive. The school is expanding and both the university and the community needs to be able to adjust to that.

I personally loved living on Foster St. for fall semester of my junior year and the following summer. My family and I picked this neighborhood because it was much quieter and safer than other student neighborhoods. For every hard partying group of students, there are dozens more who do not routinely cause a ruckus. I hope that this can eventually be resolved to accomodate the residents and university alike.

ab_resident said...

jennifer s.,

BC does have many alternatives to house their students on campus. The fact of the matter is that BC is striving to become a sprawing campus and expend as it sees fit with only their agenda. This unfortunately comes at the expense to the surrounding neighborhoods. There are a multitude of locations with options that would allow BC to build further housing for students on the main campus. To say that BC is at capacity in terms of building on the main campus is a false statement.

The purchase of the former St. John's land by BC comes with many legitimate concerns by the surrounding communities. History has shown that there are many problems as a result of some (not all) of the students living in the surrounding neighborhoods. Embedding more students further into the neighborhoods will only amplify the issues that face the neighborhoods.