By Maicharia Z. Weir Lytle, President and CEO, United South End Settlements
(reprinted with permission)
There is a lot of misinformation circulating about the sale of USES’s property located at 566 Columbus Ave., also known as the Harriet Tubman House, which is its third location. I want to take this opportunity to share the facts and answer your questions.
United South End Settlements has run a deficit for almost two decades, which you can see in our publicly available 990s and audits. Fortunately, USES has been able to survive through a board-designated fund that Frieda Garcia (former USES executive director) built prior to her retirement. This fund has sustained the organization for more than 15 years. The realities of the philanthropic environment, the loss of significant United Way funding in the early 2000s, recessions, leadership transitions, and rising facilities and maintenance costs – have left our organization unable to continue operating our multiple properties and making the impact on children and families. We need a new strategic path.
Two years ago, USES went through an in-depth planning and feasibility study on all of its properties. The goal was to determine the best use of our assets and best space for USES to continue serving children and families – while ensuring our financial stability. The result of that comprehensive study is our decision to sell 566 Columbus Ave.. Renovating, rebuilding, or selling 48 Rutland, a historic property with more limitations on development, will not give us the funds we need to operate, or create an endowment fund to take us into the next generation. Selling 566 Columbus Ave. will unlock these needed changes.
This sale will allow us to significantly expand our programs so that more children (66 percent) have access to affordable high-quality early childhood education and out of school time programs. We will grow to a size that will ensure a financially sound future.
If the sale of 566 Columbus Ave. is blocked, we would be forced to close our doors as early as next fiscal year. That would mean approximately 50 people would lose their jobs and more than 350 children and their families would lose access to our services. Children and families in and around the South End would suffer without access to our vital programs. The properties we own would then be auctioned off for development.
USES is a vital community resource. Not only do we provide critical services for children and families, but we also create spaces for people of different racial and economic backgrounds to come together as part of a strong, diverse community. The sale and the new development will allow that to continue happening.
We understand the pain and frustration of losing the property, but we are not losing the Harriet Tubman House. Historically, USES has owned a number of settlement houses located all over the South End and what’s important is the preservation of our mission and services. The reality today is that we are most effective on one campus. We will honor the settlement houses of the past by continuing to provide the critical services that support children and families who need it the most. And we will build a new Harriet Tubman House (its 4th location) that offers our children and families a state-of-the-art facility.
There are opponents who want to stop the sale. Yet if this sale is blocked, USES will close. It’s that simple. This is our last financial lifeline that will sustain USES today, and well into the future.