As Tufts transforms several wood-frame houses in Medford into the CoHo student neighborhood, the school has asked seven faculty and staff members to leave their university-owned homes to make way for the project, according to Tufts’ Director of Real Estate, Robert Chihade.
The university owns the houses through its Walnut Hill Properties real estate subsidiary, which manages 120 rental units adjacent to campus, Chihade said. Any staff and faculty who will be displaced by the redevelopment, he explained, will be offered alternative housing.
“Faculty that are being asked to relocate have been offered the opportunity to live in a Walnut Hill unit as long as they are employed by Tufts,” Chihade told the Daily in an email, adding that, despite the displacement, residents will stay until the end of their leases.
Staff and Faculty asked to move
Anthony Kodzis (A ’72), the acquisitions manager at Tisch Library, is one such resident who will be displaced. The property Kodzis currently lives in at 21 University Ave. was originally owned by his family and was sold to Walnut Hill.
Kodzis, 67, has lived in the house since his birth. He was notified of possible relocations by Walnut Hill in the spring of 2017. On June 8, 2017, he received a letter from Walnut Hill stating that he would be required to relocate to make way for student housing.
“The purpose of this letter is to confirm information related to your relocation from the Walnut Hill unit you occupy,” the letter says. “The University is undergoing a project to repurpose specific properties as housing for the Tufts University juniors and seniors … We acknowledge the difficulty of being asked to move to accommodate the University’s priorities and are grateful for your cooperation.”
In an interview with the Daily, Kodzis emphasized the difficulty of being forced to move out.
“It’s being pushed on me and I have to [move out] … I’m not prepared to do it. I don’t want to go through the aggravation … If I had wanted to, I would’ve done it before,” Kodzis said, adding that the move came as a shock so soon after his mother’s death.
The letter continues, outlining the conditions of Kodzis’ relocation. The letter asks that Kodzis move out by January 31, 2019, and states that he will be reimbursed for any moving expenses, given that he retains his employment at Tufts. Kodzis will receive $1,000 “for each year or partial year at Walnut Hill from initial tenancy to the date of this notice,” according to the letter, adding up to a payment of $12,000 in Kodzis’ case.
To Kodzis, these offers are not satisfactory and do not consider his unique circumstance, given that it is his childhood home.
“Walnut Hill unilaterally determined the terms they were willing to provide (i.e. moving expense, compensation),” he said in an email. “In my case, these offers are meaningless and insulting, since they are quite impersonal.”
In addition, Kodzis views his relocation as an eviction, and thus does not plan on moving to another Walnut Hill property.
“At this point, I don’t want to be involved with Walnut Hill or Tufts for housing, period. Just forget it. The relationship is gone,” he said. “I’m supposed to be pleased with you because you’re offering me money? You’re evicting me. I can’t be pleased.”
The letter goes on to say that if Kodzis plans on relocating to a Walnut Hill property, he will only be able to lease for three years before needing to move again, to “insure that Walnut Hill will have residential units to incoming faculty and staff in perpetuity.”
Chihade emphasized that the intention of these properties is to provide short-term housing. Faculty who began renting from Walnut Hill before July 2017 can rent from Walnut Hill for the duration of their employment at Tufts, Chihade added. However, Kodzis, as a staff member, is not protected under this arrangement.
In an email with the Daily, Kodzis stated that the distinction between staff and faculty should not exist, citing that “all Tufts employees contribute to the university.”
Chihade added that employees being given permanent university housing would need to negotiate this in their employment contract with the university.
“Any agreements regarding permanence of housing would need to be negotiated individually between faculty or staff and the university and would be part of each individual’s employment agreement,” he wrote. “None of the tenants who are being relocated had such an agreement.”
John McDonald, a professor of music, lived at 11 Bellevue Street for 20 years, until he was informed the property was going to become a part of CoHo student housing. He expressed concerns about the way that Walnut Hill communicated with faculty and staff residents who were asked to leave.
“There were some bumps in the road on this for us,” he said. “Communication from Tufts and Walnut Hill Properties to Walnut Hill faculty/staff tenants was not good through the early phases of our relocation.”
McDonald said he had trouble getting answers to pragmatic questions and emphasized the lack of clarity that came from administrative offices at Tufts.
“The intentions of and plans for the [CoHo] project were not communicated clearly to the university community,” McDonald said. McDonald stated in a letter he wrote to faculty deans that he learned about the plan to relocate faculty in a Daily article from fall 2016.
McDonald also emphasized that some faculty could only accept positions at Tufts due to the prospect of university housing.
He noted that since receiving the letter, his issues with Walnut Hill and the school administration have been mostly resolved, and he is satisfied with his new Walnut Hill apartment on Packard Ave.
“[The new apartment] is a down-size, but it is actually more workable, more attractive, and even closer to my main workplace/office in the Granoff [Music] Center on the lower campus,” he wrote. “The down-side of the down-size is that the rent on the new space (Somerville) is higher than the old, larger space (Medford).”
However, he said that he is ultimately pleased to be working with Walnut Hill.
“Walnut Hill Properties performs an incredibly valuable service to a university community situated in [one of the] most expensive rental market[s] in the country, and I have felt more comfortable working with them than striking out on the larger real estate market,” he said.
The faculty’s Campus Planning and Development Committee included a set of principles that the university should follow concerning various housing projects, including the junior and senior housing project, in its annual report from 2016–2017, according to committee co-chair Justin Hollander, associate professor of urban and environmental policy and planning.
“Walnut Hill should continue its acquisition program off-campus, to make-up for units that upperclassman will displace,” the document reads. “For faculty who are displaced, efforts should be made for Walnut Hill to accommodate them in another residence in the same school district.”
McDonald stated that faculty housing should be as important an issue to the university as housing for students.
“I hope Tufts — on the university scale — will take the need to affordable and accessible faculty housing as a serious, high-priority issue alongside student housing,” he said.
Impact on the neighborhood
Kodzis believes the introduction of new student housing harms well-established communities of permanent Medford residents.
“The Walnut Hill properties [in Capen Village] now are going to be all students,” Kodzis said. “We have all students in other buildings, and the people that are owner-occupied are going to be swamped with students all over the place, in addition to the fact on one side of us we have Hill Hall, and on the other side we have Miller and Wren.”
“We’re surrounded, and the people that are left is that an environment, there are very few families now, so it doesn’t look good for the whole area,” Kodzis added.
In response, Chihade noted that many local residents would like to see fewer students forced to live in off-campus neighborhoods.
“Elected officials and residents in both Medford and Somerville have expressed a desire to have Tufts house more of our students. Tufts already houses 100% of [first-years] and sophomores,” he said. “The Junior/Senior Housing project will add even more beds in units that are desirable by juniors and seniors and will result in fewer students living off campus.”
Rocco DiRico, director of community relations, echoed Chihade’s sentiment that the project will not undermine current neighborhoods.
“This project will be on Winthrop Street, Bellevue Street, Fairmount, and University Avenue. Tufts students already live on all of these streets,” DiRico wrote in an email to the Daily. “We will continue to work with [community members] before, during, and after construction to ensure that this project has a positive impact on the neighborhood.”
Director of Community Relations Barbara Rubel highlighted other efforts by the university to meet the demand from local communities to house more students near campus.
“We’re also creating a significant amount of on-campus housing through bed optimization, the process of making better use of existing dorm space,” Rubel told the Daily in an e-mail.
Shane Woolley, co-organizer for the Tufts Housing League (THL), a student organization dedicated to activism around housing, argued that solutions such as junior and senior housing expansions are not sustainable solutions to the campus’ lack of capacity. Woolley, a junior, emphasized that this practice exacerbates the problem of increasing rents in Medford and Somerville.
“[Faculty] have to be moved from their current place of residence [to] find a new place, and this puts more pressure on the external housing market, which can drive out people who are living there currently when their landlords realize they can make more money off of Tufts students or Tufts faculty and staff,” Woolley said.
Woolley believes a new, dense on-campus dorm is a more sustainable solution. According to Woolley, Tufts currently has the space to build new developments. Wooley told the Daily in an email that Fletcher Field is his first choice location for a new dorm.
“It’s really underutilized, and long-term I think there’s a lot of potential to develop that whole area along Pro Row/opposite Mugar into a new quad,” he said.