Over the past 15 years, Yale has taken major steps to build a more cooperative relationship with New Haven, through community initiatives and direct financial support for city government. City leaders lauded yesterday’s announcement of an increase in this financial contribution as the next step in the University’s effort.
Yale’s announcement yesterday of a $1.8 million voluntary contribution to the city of New Haven was met primarily with widespread approval, even from those who have been critical of Yale’s relationship with the city in the past.
“I think it’s a reminder of just how vital a role Yale plays in the city and how well the University has stepped up to that role,” said political science professor Douglas Rae, author of “City,” a history of New Haven. “Where once there were dozens of major tax-paying corporations in the city, now there are scarcely any, and the role of leadership falls to Yale and the hospitals, for the most part.”
Fair Share Coalition member Josh Eidelson ’06, who was active in the coalition’s drive to persuade Yale to increase its contribution earlier this year, called the University’s agreement “a great step forward.” However, he said he ultimately would like to see the University agree to an even larger contribution.
“This demonstrates the importance of ongoing pressure from students and the community,” Eidelson said. “We continue to believe Yale should make up the full difference between the [Payment in Lieu of Taxes] payments New Haven receives from the state and the tax value of the University.”
But Associate Vice President of New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand said Yale more than makes up for the loss in revenue caused by its tax-exempt status. He said 10 percent of the city budget comes from voluntary payments, building permits and PILOT payments on Yale property, while Yale only owns four percent of all land in the city.
“Claims by the perpetually dissatisfied fringe that Yale causes a deficiency in the City budget are delusional,” Morand wrote in an e-mail. “If Yale weren’t here, New Haven’s real estate market would decline and the City’s budget and citizens would suffer. We make a voluntary contribution to build strength, not fill a nonexistent gap.”
Rebecca Livengood ’07, the Democratic candidate for Ward 1 alderman who has been active in the Fair Share Coalition, said she thinks the new level of commitment is sufficient for the time being, though she would like to see the University continue to make contributions in other areas.
“I certainly think that it’s a step in the right direction, and I’m glad that it’s pegged to Yale’s growth,” Livengood said. “I would like to see Yale make an ongoing commitment to community benefits in their development projects.”
Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01, who has been vocal in the past about her desire for Yale to increase its contribution to the community, said it is important that the city work out an agreement for a similar contribution from Yale-New Haven Hospital.
“I’m looking to see the hospital actually step up to the plate,” she said. “I’m sure they’ll make a contribution … but they communicate a hesitancy by the fact that they haven’t jumped to it yet.”
But Rob Smuts ’01, deputy chief of staff for Mayor John DeStefano Jr., said negotiations regarding a contribution from the hospital have been running smoothly.
“We’ve been having very productive conversations with them, and I think the hospital is definitely acting in good faith,” Smuts said. “We are very optimistic that we’ll be able to find something that strengthens the partnership between the hospital and the city very soon.”
Smuts declined to comment on how much money the hospital might agree to commit, but he said Yale-New Haven is a “much smaller institution than the University but a much larger institution than [the Hospital of St. Raphael].” St. Raphael’s has agreed to a contribution of $100,000 for this fiscal year.
According to Rae, Yale’s efforts to improve its relationship with New Haven in the past decade have been the “greatest strides” made by any university.
Yale’s new total contribution to the city, roughly $4.2 million, is the largest amount paid by a university to a single municipality, though Harvard University pays a similar amount divided up among Boston, Cambridge and Watertown. Harvard has nearly 20,000 students, compared to roughly 11,000 at Yale.
Tufts University professor Jeffrey Berry, an expert on nonprofit organizations, said it is common for municipalities to request assistance from large tax-exempt institutions like leading universities.
“There is no formula that I know of that’s commonly accepted as to how much is appropriate,” Berry said. “That’s another way of saying that everything’s negotiable.”
At the University of Pennsylvania, which Rae said may be the leading university in terms of municipal contributions, Vice President for Government, Community and Public Affairs Carol Scheman said Penn used to pay a voluntary contribution to the city of Philadelphia but has since shifted to a model of community collaboration. Penn launched a five-part West Philadelphia Initiative that targeted key areas like education and housing, including the establishment of a university-subsidized public community high school.
“We decided that spending money in collaboration with the community was better than just handing over money to the city,” Scheman said.
Morand said Yale has been able to combine this approach — with initiatives like the Homebuyer Program and support for affordable housing and retail development — with direct financial assistance to the city government.
Yale political science professor David Cameron said nonprofit organizations must ultimately seek a hard-to-find balance between their own needs and their duty to the community.
“They all rely on city services, and from an equity point of view there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be making contributions,” Cameron said. “On the other hand, non-profits have their own fiscal responsibilities … So it’s not an easy thing.”