The town’s decision to rent two houses on the edge of Larz Anderson Park to the nearby private, members-only Country Club has raised questions about the town’s use of publicly-owned property.
When Isabel Anderson, the heiress, author and wife of Larz Anderson, died in 1948, she left part of her estate to the town. In addition to what’s now known as Larz Anderson Park, the property included two homes at 55 and 21 Newton Street. Like the rest of the park, Anderson’s will requires that the houses be used for public recreation, education or charitable purposes.
The town has struggled to find long-term caretakers and tenants for the properties, both of which need significant maintenance and repair. Most recently, the properties were used by an organization making Chinese language educational videos and by the mental health nonprofit Vinfen.
The latest move by town staff, to rent the homes to The Country Club to house six or seven members of its staff, has raised questions among some Select Board and Town Meeting members.
Under the agreements, The Country Club will maintain and do upkeep on the properties, as well as agree to make capital improvements like painting, flooring and window replacement. The club will pay $1,350 a month for the 21 Newton Street property, and $3,500 a month for the larger house at 55 Newton Street.
The house at 55 Newton Street. Photo via Google Maps.
At a recent meeting, two Select Board members, Paul Warren and John VanScoyoc, questioned why the town took a path which would help the Country Club house its staff, amid a housing crisis that has made it hard for town employees to find places to live in Brookline.
“We’re experiencing an affordability crisis in Brookline, frankly,” said Warren. “We have an affordability issue for our town employees. We have a number of seniors that are struggling to remain in our existing properties.”
“I believe we really need to take a step back and ask ourselves how we want to handle properties like these,” Warren said.
Town Administrator Chas Carey says the Country Club had approached the town about taking over the properties, and that after an official procurement process launched in 2019, the golf club was the only applicant. The club is a registered nonprofit and qualifies for the purposes under the will through its Brookline Youth Fund, which contributes to opportunities for low-income and at-risk youth.
Carey and Select Board chair Bernard Greene argued that the properties are a special case and not a good fit for town employee housing, because they can only be used for certain purposes under the legal requirements of the will, and that they need significant maintenance as well.
Ultimately, the board approved a compromise to shorten the lease at 55 Newton Street to five years, down from 10 years. The lease at 21 Newton is for three years. The Country Club has accepted that revised offer, so the plan will go forward.
In the meantime, Select Board member Mike Sandman made a plea to the public at the meeting: “Please, members of the public, don’t give us your houses. We have a problem deciding how to handle these things.”
The town is now working on revisiting its policy for how it uses properties it owns.
The Country Club did not respond to a request for comment.
Town Meeting members weigh in
Beyond the Select Board meetings, the situation has raised questions among Town Meeting members as well, including a brief debate on the Town Meeting listserv .
“I’ve attended many meetings, and participated in many discussions, about the need for workforce housing in Brookline,” wrote Neil Gordon (Precinct 1) in an email to Town Meeting colleagues. “Not once did I hear mentioned a need for housing for employees of The Country Club. Perhaps we don’t have a formal policy on this, but it’s clear to me that those who have paid any attention at all to housing issues here would prefer giving a preference to Town and School employees.”
“Although I agree that housing in Brookline is beyond the reach of most Town employees, this is an issue that has burdened Town employees for decades, and as you may have heard during the discussion, these two houses — with their capital needs and historical restrictions — are not the solution,” wrote Joslin Murphy (Precinct 16), who is also the town’s former general counsel.