Today, United South End Settlements faces a question: Do we preserve a building or an organization?
I’m speaking on behalf of the 17-member Board of Directors, many of whom are here tonight. We are unanimous in our conviction that we need to sell 566 Columbus Avenue.
The Board did not come to this decision lightly. We would not be selling this building if the survival of the organization was not at stake. We are painfully aware of the strong, long-standing ties many have to this space.
There are two significant realities we want to address: 1) USES has been in serious financial distress for decades and 2) the misinformation campaign launched by opponents to the sale is directly and currently challenging our ability to stay solvent and serve the community.
Let me address the financial reality first. United South End Settlements has been functioning for almost two decades with:
– The burden of operational deficits
– Deteriorating and expensive facilities
– A shrinking endowment
– Siloed, disconnected and underfunded programs
When we hired President and CEO Maicharia Weir Lytle in 2015, she was given a clear mandate to turn the organization around. Almost immediately, we collectively began a process to study our options over an 18-month period that included four public community meetings.
We carefully reviewed our finances, programs and real estate.
As the Board, we have a fiduciary responsibility to keep USES solvent, but with annual building maintenance costs exceeding $700,000 per year, along with millions of dollars in replacement and repair costs that are on the horizon, staying in business would not have been possible for very long while also maintaining all of our South End properties. The planning process made clear that we needed to change our business model for USES to become financially sustainable.
USES has a long history of reinventing itself. Today, we are at another critical time in our history. Through our strategic planning:
– We have revitalized our programs to focus on a targeted mission to break the cycle of poverty for children and their families
– We have plans to reimagine our existing property at 48 Rutland Street to support and grow our new programming and increase our impact
– We have identified a path to secure this institution’s financial future and it requires that we sell 566 Columbus Avenue
All of this brings me to reality No. 2: by fighting the sale, opponents are jeopardizing the ability of USES to stay open. There’s no changing our structural deficit, the details of which are in our publicly available 990 and audits. Yet, unfortunately there has been a misinformation campaign underway for months, a crusade based on fear, not facts. It’s a misguided campaign. What the opposition doesn’t realize or acknowledge is this: if the sale is blocked, our nonprofit – the one that has been a bedrock of this community for 127 years – will cease to exist. Our financial numbers don’t lie. Misguided attacks on USES and our motives are just that – misguided. If you want to truly understand the forces at play, just go to our website and learn for yourself, or ask any one of us.
We know this is an emotional issue for everyone but let’s remember this: our impact is not based on the buildings we own. The Harriet Tubman House has moved several times before and her legacy will always be an essential part of our history. The proceeds of this sale will allow us to relocate the Harriet Tubman House to our Rutland Street campus, and to reinvest in the community by expanding our programs, deepening our impact on the families we serve and ensuring the stability of our agency.
We envision a bright future for USES that in turn ensures bright futures for countless children and families. We believe history will look back on this difficult decision and see the wisdom and courage of our choice to preserve an organization, and not a building.
Chair, United South End Settlements Board of Directors