Harvard Real Estate Three Years Old; Tenants Beginning To Band Together

This is the first in a series of articles examining the history, operations and future of Harvard Real Estate Inc.

On May 9. 1978. Joe B. Wyatt, Harvard's vice-president for administration, said "After a year-long study, we have concluded that the interests of the University and the quality of life for Harvard's faculty. students and other residents can best be served by placing responsibility for the marketing and management of Harvard's properties into a closely-held, professionally-managed real estate corporation"

His announcement marked the birth of Harvard Real Estate (HRE), a non-profit real estate management company with control over all non-academic housing owned by the University.

In the three years since, individual tenants have tried to argue that HRE has done much to serve Harvard's interests. but little or nothing to "improve the quality" of their lives Their complaints, though, have for the most part been individual and isolated, a rent increase in one building, the firing of a trusted superintendent in another.

Now, though, tenants are beginning to talk in broader terms: Within the last few weeks, the tenants from one building--22.24 Prescott St.--have contacted other residents and begun the task of forming a Harvard tenant's union. Meanwhile, a major internal review of HRE is reportedly underway.

This series of articles will examine the dozens of battles Harvard has fought with its tenants in the three years since HRE was formed, in an attempt to focus on and evaluate some of the recurring complaints. Those complaints include:

*Allegations that Harvard officials have manipulated the Cambridge Ren: Control Board in an effort to gain rent increases, and not passed on property tax abatements to tenants. Some cases are well-documented--in September of 1979, for instance, the University tried to collect rent increases without proper notification. Other instances include charges of perjury levelled at HRE officials two weeks ago by a tenant at 64 Oxford St. *Charges that maintenance has been inadequate.

*Complaints that HRE has paid contractors exorbitant prices for repairs and then tried to pass the costs on to tenants through rent increases. An independent contractor retained by tenants in one building testified last month that Harvard paid close to three times what it should have cost to paint walls and repair windows in one building a charge that University officials have also denied:

*Allegations that the University has broken a series of promises to the community, including the Red Line boundary on its own expansion, which was adopted more than six years ago. Officials have said some of the violations--purchases on Memorial Drive and Waterhouse St., for example--were minor instances not intended to be covered by theirblanket ban on expansion.

*Complaints that University officials have intimidated or harassed tenants or maintenance personnel.

The University has systematically denied the complaints over the years and for the most part tenants have been ineffective in pressing their claims. "They are able to outwait us." one tenant says.

But the allegations have caused consternation in other quarters--the Cambridge City Council for example wrote an angry letter to the Harvard Board of Overseers two years age.

And other area groups--the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association the Cambridge Civic Association and city politicians--Alfred Vellucci, David Sullivan, Saundra Graham. Mary Fllen Preusser and a host of others--have pressed their attack against the University more lorcefully and effectively in the past, focusing often on the question of its real estate dealings.

The press release that accompanied the announcement of HRE's formation quoted Wvatt as saving "It will help faculty who wish to live in Cambridge. It will improve service to students living off campus and to tenants." These articles will examine those promises and find out how well they have been kept.