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Those who want to build in Cambridge should not be faint of heart. Since the mid 1900s, Institute affiliates have sought to create affordable housing near campus to benefit members of the MIT community by taking advantage of the convenience of the surrounding area. Despite the interest of various MIT members, few projects have come to fruition — until now.

Although real estate within walking distance of the Institute has always been highly priced, the University Residential Communities have finally succeeded in breathing new life into an old idea.

Construction of the URC building at 303 Third Street near Kendall Square is the culmination of a four-year effort by the URC and the Limited Liability Corporation, a group formed by nine senior Harvard and MIT affiliates in January 2004. The URC founders include Paul E. Gray ’54, former president of MIT, a research affiliate in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and an adjunct professor of architecture at Harvard.

The original first floor design of the South Building was significantly modified to provide communal rooms for lectures, dinner parties, and medical services, according to Stephen N. Faber, senior vice president of Asset Management for Beal Companies, a firm that oversees the project. The building is currently designed to include an indoor pool, fitness center, and underground parking, along with shuttle service to the Institute, according to the URC Web site. The Web site also states that occupancy of the lower floors of the South Building is planned for September 2008.

The URC hopes to maintain its communal ownership of the South Building in the form of a cooperative structure. With the exception of the 21 housing units set aside to the City of Cambridge, only those with affiliations to MIT, Harvard, or Massachusetts General Hospital are currently eligible to reserve units. The cooperative structure will allow for its owners greater control over its use and transfer, along with “the ability to borrow against the equity of the real estate for future repairs or improvements,” according to the URC’s Web site.

Residents receive a share of the corporation’s stock that is proportional to the purchase price of their housing unit under the cooperative form of ownership. Once 50 percent of the units are sold (74 units), the developer is bound by contract to the cooperative form of ownership. After the 80 percent mark is reached, the ownership will be transferred to the cooperative shareholders. Within the cooperative structure, transfer of housing units can only be made to those who an elected board deems to have institutional affiliation.

Initial sales strong

The URC that has grown out of a partnership with the Beal Companies is receiving increasing market acceptance. Although the summer real estate market is somewhat slower than that of the academic year, 30 percent of the URC’s housing units have already been reserved, Faber wrote.

The URC subscribers who have previously made refundable $1,000 deposits are given priority in sale reservations, which began in June. A market standard of 10 percent of the purchase price must be paid within 10 days of reservation. Housing units range from $478,000 for a one bedroom apartment to $1.5 million for a three bedroom apartment, with select units offering duplex layouts. The URC’s Web site states that such prices are comparable to other cooperative and condominium sales in the Cambridge/Boston area.

In April, the URC signed an agreement with the Extell Development Company that allowed construction to cater to the URC’s needs, according to the MIT Faculty Newsletter. Extell, along with its partner Equity Residential, which is developing the two buildings on the site, has agreed to modify and expand the 239 units of the South Building to 168 units, Faber wrote. Of the 168 units, the City of Cambridge allocates 21 for sale to those who “have incomes from 60 percent to 120 percent of the Boston median income,” O. Robert Simha MCP ‘57, director of planning emeritus, wrote in an e-mail. Simha urges those in the MIT community who meet the qualifications to apply.

In September, the URC sales office will be relocated to 300 Third Street, Faber wrote. By that time, most of the people would have also returned to campus, allowing the URC to generate, update, and internally circulate the contact information of its members with the intention of forming committees, Gray wrote in an e-mail.

Shaky start

Originally named “Aging in Place,” the URC was intended for people 55 years and older and had attracted senior members of the community who wanted to continue to live at home for the remainder of their lives. However, early meetings with subscribers indicated that they would prefer that the residence be multi-generational. Although the URC at 303 Third Street provides accommodations such as on-site medical services and walk-in showers, it no longer restricts the age of those who reside within the community.

Although the URC has achieved a successful lift-off, its previous attempts have been anything but smooth. Despite allowing the use of e-mail and Web site space for communications, MIT has not contributed any funding. This has caused the developer to question the group’s ability to solicit many buyers, going as far as requesting the URC to revert back to the condominium form of ownership if less than half of the units are sold within the first 14 months. Such a request is now an issue of the past.

In the past, the process of securing a site has ranged anywhere from modifying existing buildings to constructing and have included private sale, offer to multiple buyers, and public auction, according the URC Web site. There was a time two years ago when it was so difficult to obtain an agreeable price that the URC was willing to modify its criteria, the Web site stated. Subscribers were asked of the extent to which they were willing to postpone occupancy for three to six years and whether a location a mile or two from MIT with shuttle service would be acceptable. Indeed, the URC and its constituency have survived those tests and have moved onto more promising paths.

More information can be found on the URC’s Web site at http://web.mit.edu/ir/urc/ and on the 303 Third Street Web site at http://web.mit.edu/303third/.