Photo: Angela Rowlings/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald
When you don’t own and control the real estate in your community, you’re at the mercy of those who do. The Harriet Tubman House is owned by United South End Settlements (USES), a nonprofit founded 120 years ago to help Blacks migrating from the South settle in Boston. Today the organization assists low income families in need of affordable housing, child care, job training and educational services. The Tubman House was built in 1978, designed by Don Stull, a Black architect. The Tubman House has been owned by USES for decades and as the organization sells, many see it as yet another sign of the erasure of Boston’s rich Black presence and history.
The developer who is purchasing the property has agreed to include 2,300 square feet of office space for USES in its final plans for the property. Those plans, as reported by the Daily Mail, also include 66 condos, 5,000 square feet of commercial space, a cafe and an art gallery. At the root of the problem for USES is a rapid rise in property values, typical for gentrifying areas. Roxbury is a Black neighborhood in Boston, historically. In 2013 the median home price in Roxbury was $237,500. By 2018 that number was $455,000, according to the Boston Globe. As investors — particularly foreign investors — buy up historically Black communities, Black people and Black organizations are increasingly hard pressed to maintain their presence in those neighborhoods.
The new owner of the Tubman House building is in many ways being charitable — 17 percent of the units will be reserved for affordable housing and USES will still have 2,300 square feet of office space, along with cash to invest in its mission. Still, nothing trumps owning property in in your own neighborhood and remaining, as one would naturally wish to. But that only happens when a people are united in their determination to own, control and continually reinvest in their community. Black people must see this clearly or continue to lose more blocks, landmarks and legacies.