Community protests at NU

Community protests at NU

By Marc Larocque

An advocacy group for the Lower Roxbury Residents Group is planning to disrupt Northeastern’s freshman move-in days. They are planning a smear campaign to detract parents from sending their children to the university because they believe Northeastern’s Parcel 18 West project has commenced without there being a discussion of the community benefits.

Last Monday morning, 25 community members of Roxbury barricaded the doors of Northeastern’s administration office building on Columbus Avenue to protest what they said were Northeastern’s “illegal, unethical and unjust” development practices.

City Councilor Chuck Turner, who is in an election year for his Roxbury district seat, led the Lower Roxbury Residents Group, said he believes Northeastern and the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) have left community members out of the discussion with how contractors should be hired for Parcel 18, a 20-story dormitory that is being built next to a second, 16-story tower under construction near Ruggles Station.

At 11 a.m., administrators told the group who had gathered outside of the office doors they weren’t ready to have a meeting with them for fear that any negotiations could compromise their plans with Marriot hotels to develop another section of land.

The Roxbury residents then intensified their protest, shouting into megaphones and blocking workers and students as they attempted to enter the building.

The group has protested every Tuesday at 6:30 a.m., in front of 716 Columbus Ave., which hosts a number of administrative offices, for more than a month. Along with enforcing obligatory community benefits, Turner and the Roxbury group believe Northeastern should commit to a moratorium on building, buying, leasing or renting in the community for 25 years.

Later in the day, about 100 Roxbury citizens convened at Roxbury Community College during a meeting for the Parcel 18 Task Force, a group that has fought for the land for years, holding regular meetings, moderated by state Senator Diane Wilkerson.

“The community supported [Northeastern] moving forward with the dorm based on the expectation we would work out the community benefit details later,” Wilkerson said. “But there has been nothing worked out to date. Now, working with the hotel, Northeastern has shut the community out. I, for one, would never trust Northeastern to do anything they say they’re going to do again.”

Northeastern administration eventually conceded to the uproar caused by the protest July 9 and scheduled a meeting with the Lower Roxbury Residents Group that was held the next day in a conference room across the street on the lower floor of the Badger and Rosen Squashbusters Facility.

Turner, who originally argued that Northeastern was breaking laws with the residence hall now rephrases: “They’re not breaking actual laws, but they are breaking moral laws,” he said.

Boston developers are asked to employ Boston residents in 50 percent of total employee worker hours; 25 percent of total employee worker hours by minorities; and 10 percent of total employee worker hours by women.

Northeastern’s adherence to guidelines called the Boston Residents Jobs Policy, set forth in a mayor’s executive order in 1985, is monitored by the BRA. But the policy is a “good-faith effort.”

“NU has gone beyond these goals,” said Lucy Warsh, spokesperson for the BRA.

Reubin Okongwu, who owns a pharmacy in the same building as the Whittier Street Community Health Center, a federally funded organization that pays Northeastern rent for use of the property, and is also an alumnus of the class of 1981, is unsure about the civil disobedience tactics suggested by the community groups.

“They shouldn’t try to fight Northeastern,” he said. “They are here to stay. Over the years I’ve seen many of these groups fight against Northeastern and fizzle out. It’s because there’s so much fragmentation and every group is making side deals.”

Okongwu has watched the residence hall construction for more than six months since contractors started soil testing. He is not against the residence hall, but believes the community groups should unite to work for benefits from Northeastern.

“We need jobs,” he said. “I’m not talking about high administration jobs. We need low-level jobs like answering phones, sweeping floors and construction.”

Northeastern has not yet released its community benefits package or signed a cooperation agreement and has already begun construction.

“It’s not typical for a project to start construction without the finalized cooperation agreement,” Warsh said.

Though, university and BRA officials agree the community had ample opportunity to offer input about benefits at more than 40 well-attended meetings held during a two-year period – beginning before the project was approved – with abutting schools, businesses, area stockholders and community representatives like Turner and Wilkerson.

The community benefits package should be completed by the end of the week, Warsh said, and then Northeastern administrators will sign a cooperation agreement.

Northeastern is now also negotiating with Marriott hotels to develop the urban renewal lot, on the corner of Tremont Street and Melnea Cass Boulevard, otherwise known as Parcel 18 East.

Wilkerson said the terms of ownership of Parcel 18 East – community benefit, minority equity ownership, projected revenue, jobs, minority and local contractor opportunities – are being neglected.

“The university has taken the position that if it or the Marriott were to meet or talk with representatives of the community before they finalize their agreement, it would mess up the deal,” she said.

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