Local teen activists demand NEU pay more PILOT payments

April 6, 2018
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Teen organizers from B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign held a banner-drop protest action at Northeastern University (NEU) on Jan. 17 to demand that the university pay $13 million to the City of Boston’s Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program. A spokesperson of NEU was unaware of the protest.

PEACE for Jorge Campaign is an anti-violence program of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.

The PILOT program is an official program that requests tax-exempt nonprofits in Boston, mostly hospitals and universities, to pay an amount equivalent to property taxes as a payment for the municipal services that they receive. The Boston high school activists wanted to raise awareness about NEU and what they consider to be an insufficient contribution to the City.

In April 2010, a mayoral-appointed task force released a report suggesting more standardization of PILOT agreements. According to the Mayor’s Office, each PILOT contribution should represent 25 percent of the amount of tax that would be due if properties were not tax exempt.  Each institution may then reduce their PILOT contribution by up to 50 percent by providing proof of community benefits programs that directly benefit Boston residents. The new framework was adopted in fiscal year 2012, which was also the first year of a five-year phase-in period to the new amounts. Fiscal year 2017 was the first year after that phase-in period. The City is currently working with institutions to ask for fiscal year 2018 contributions.

“It’s important that NEU pays their PILOT because it is one of the wealthiest institutions in the city that owns some of the most valuable property in the city, but because it is technically a nonprofit, it is not on the hook for paying property taxes on the vast amount of city land it owns, which denies the city the revenue that would otherwise go directly into the funding pool for public education,” said Sarah O’Connor, speaking on behalf of the activists.

O’Connor said that NEU, according to her group’s calculations, owes a total of $13 million over the past six years of the PILOT program’s existence.

The students dropped a banner in the Curry Student Center and gave a brief speech explaining the purpose of the action to which people in the area booed and cheered. A NEU staff member asked them to move it, which the activists did. No one was arrested.

Renata Nyul, spokesperson for NEU, said that she was unaware of the protest. She said that the university is paying $1.5 million annually, as well as contributing to the community in other ways, including scholarships to Boston Public Schools students and projects, like its $100 million investment in the City-owned Carter Playground on Columbus Avenue.

“The City of Boston appreciates all of the voluntary contributions to the PILOT program, in particular those institutions that continue their high level of support,” said Emme Handy, chief financial officer for the City of Boston. “The FY17 PILOT program generated $32.4 million in cash payments, as well as significant contributions of community benefits programs that directly benefited Boston residents. The community benefits programs, often overlooked, have a tremendous impact in improving the lives of many Bostonians. For example, our analysis shows that through the PILOT program, colleges and universities award over $32 million in scholarships to Boston high school students. We will continue to work with our partners to explore ways to improve the PILOT program, and in particular will seek to encourage greater participation.”

Payments in lieu of taxes fund services such as police, fire protection, and snow removal. According to the Mayor’s Office, an additional $5 million would be able to fund:

  • Police- 50 Police Officers at the average 3rd year salary; or
  • Fire- Replacement of Apparatuses:  1 Tower Ladder, 4 Engines and 3 Ladders; or
  • Public Works- Paving 17 miles of City Streets ; or
  • Education- Extending School learning time at 15 out of 57 schools impacting 6000 students; or
  • Education- 490 of the 4000 K1 seats; or
  • Library- Purchase of materials (books & eBooks) for 2 years; or
  • Traffic- Create 5-10 miles of protected Bike Lanes; or
  • Traffic- New signals and Timing for 10-17 Intersections; or
  • Street- Salt, Plow and Remove Snow for an average of 5 storms; or
  • Parks- Average annual cost to renovate city playgrounds; or
  • Public Works- Residential Trash removal and recycling for 2 months.