Craigie Arms Control


To the Editors of The Crimson:

There is a "clear choice" for Craigie Arms but not the one outlined in your recent editorial. My firm's proposal to renovate this historic property for mixed income rental housing remains the only practical plan. My reckoning:

1) It is wishful thinking to hope that Craigie can be patched up at only modest cost. The building was built at the end of the last century, its mechanical systems are obsolete, there is minor structural failure. In sum, the building is just worn out and in need of major overhaul. These facts were testified to by several housing professionals at the rent control hearings. Such conditions were also independently confirmed by the City's Building Department which noted in particular that the electrical system was totally inadequate and in dangerous condition.

2) A partial fixup is also false economy. If I say $500 thousand was spent, the scope of work will necessarily be incomplete and in a few years, additional expenditures will be required. Such capital expenditures under rent control rules taken together with necessary increases in base rent--the current $175 per month average rent barely covers taxes and utilities let alone proper management and maintenance--result in rents approaching $500 for only slightly upgraded housing.

3) The presumption is that Craigie Arms previously served low and moderate income tenants--in fact, rent control confers its benefits less discriminately. The relocated residents included doctors, businessmen, architects, journalists, consultants, graduate students and other young professionals, one resident even acknowledged owning an investment condominium. With few exceptions, none of these recent residents would qualify under any of the federal or state government programs designed to serve lower income persons. Our plan ensures that at least 30 percent of the apartments will actually be available for truly needed elderly, handicapped, or small family households.

4) Finally, Craigie Arms is not the cosmic tug of war between profitability and morality you suggest. Harvard Real Estate has agreed to sell the building and lease the land on reasonable terms which will allow the proposed renovations to serve a range of income levels. And contrary to the assertion that the "luxury" rents maximize HRE's return, the market mix in fact supports the lower income rents which would not otherwise be achievable in the absence of federal subsidies.

Therefore, in the opinion of many the clear choice is to properly renovate Craigie Arms without further delay. We have a financing commitment from the Massachusetts Housing Financing Agency, and we have a leasing commitment from the Cambridge Housing Authority. Work could begin in a few months, and within a year, vastly improved rental housing would be available to serve Cambridge residents of low, moderate and market incomes. Robert H. Kuehn, Jr.   Housing Associates