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USES to sell off Tubman House

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1990 and has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
USES to sell off Tubman House
United South End Settlements issued an RFP seeking bids for redevelopment of a multi-use space with significant public use for its 566 Columbus Ave. property. — Banner Photo

For more than 40 years, the three-story Harriet Tubman House building towering over the corner of Massachusetts and Columbus Avenues has hosted programming for South End residents of all ages.

Now listed for sale, the building’s life as a social service center may be coming to an end, but United South End Settlements, 126-year-old nonprofit that runs the building will live on, thanks, in part, to the expected proceeds from the sale.

The decision to shutter the organization’s most visible building came after a visioning process USES began in 2016.

“We’ve had to look at how we ensure the organization keeps its doors open,” said Executive Director Maicharia Weir Lytle. “We’ve been looking at how we can utilize our real estate to further our mission.”

Settlement house

Long before its building at 766 Columbus Ave. was constructed, the Harriet Tubman House began in 1892 as a settlement house for black women moving to Boston from the South. Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist for whom the nonprofit was named, was an honorary president of the settlement house until her death in 1913. For nearly 60 years, the organization was located on Holyoke Street in the South End.

In 1975, United South End Settlements built the 566 Columbus Ave. building and the nonprofit moved to that location, expanding its programming and functioning more as a multi-service organization.

Over the four decades the nonprofit has operated on Columbus Avenue, the state of the building has deteriorated, according to Weir Lytle. Last year, one of the two USES-owned buildings on Rutland Street flooded due to a leaking roof.

High costs

The maintenance emergency, along with the $700,000-per-year the nonprofit spends to maintain and operate its three buildings prompted USES to engage in a visioning process for the future of the organization.

“The building costs are a significant operational burden for the organization,” Weir Lytle said.

Under the plan, USES will continue to operate its early childhood education programs, after-school program, job training and one-on-one parent coaching programs as well as Camp Hale, its sleepaway summer camp in New Hampshire. The programming will run out of the organization’s Rutland Street properties, continuing to serve the current load of 372 children and 54 adults.

USES has put out a request for proposals for the redevelopment of its Columbus Ave. building. The organization has not specified a listing price. The RFP calls for developers to incorporate a mix of uses that offer significant community or public benefits.

Proceeds of the sale will enable the organization to renovate the Rutland Street properties to better serve the families enrolled in USES programs.

The ultimate aim, Weir Lytle said, is to ensure the organization is able to continue its mission of serving families from a position of financial security in a newly-renovated facility on Rutland Street.

“We can focus on the whole family in one building instead of managing different properties,” she said.

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