February 22, 2020
 
United South End Settlements Gets OK to Sell Key Asset

December 13, 2019 — United South End Settlements, a nonprofit community services organization that serves several Boston neighborhoods, received city approval yesterday to sell the Harriet Tubman House, which commemorates the former slave and abolitionist, a move aimed at ensuring the organization's financial viability.

The sale to New Boston Ventures is expected to generate $16.5 million for United South End Settlements (USES), according to a report in The Boston Globe.

USES said it "is burdened by significant annual building maintenance costs totaling over $700K per year" that are not sustainable.

In addition, USES said it cannot afford what it estimates to be millions of dollars to replace mechanical systems and fund structural repairs for the building at 566 Columbus Ave.

"Money from the sale will help keep our organization financially viable for future generations by allowing us to expand programs for children and families at Rutland Street, a few blocks away, and create an endowment for long-term financial sustainability," USES noted.

Describing the organization at "a crossroads," USES said that if it did not sell the property its current business model would eventually put United South End Settlements out of business.

The Tubman House sale mirrors a decision made by another nonprofit, the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, to sell assets to shore up its financial position. Both sales generated public opposition.

Some neighborhood residents have opposed the Tubman House, the Globe reported, who say it anchors the South End and Lower Roxbury neighborhoods. The Berkshire Museum's plan last year to sell 22 pieces of art to raise $53 million sparked legal challenges, which led the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to rule that the museum could sell the art at auction. That sale eventually took place.

New Boston Ventures plans to construct 66 condominiums on the Tubman House site. USES said 17% of the new units will be designated affordable housing with monthly rents of $1,200 - $1,500. In addition, nearly 5,000 square feet of space on the ground floor will be reserved for community use.

USES said that executive turnover—five leadership transitions since 2001—combined with a changing fundraising landscape and near depletion of its endowment drove the need to sell. Its endowment fell below $900,000 in 2018, down from $3.1 million four years earlier, according to The Globe.

USES posted operating losses of $708,000 and $467,000 for fiscal years 2015 and 2016, respectively, but then registered operating surpluses of $53,000 and $167,000 during 2017 and 2018.

USES was founded in 1892 as the Andover House, the first settlement house in Boston. The Tubman House was established in the early Twentieth Century at 37 Holyoke Street in the South End. In 1950, five settlement houses formed the Federation of South End Settlements Houses and in 1960, the Harriet Tubman House combined with four other settlements houses to form United South End Settlements. The Harriet Tubman House legacy will continue at 48 Rutland Street.

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