To the Editors of The Crimson:
We are tenants living in an eighteen-unit rent-controlled property at 472-474 Broadway in Cambridge, owned by Harvard University. Soon, however, many of us will no longer be able to pay the rent on our apartments. We are all faced with an imminent rent increase of 75 percent, the effect of two separate cases now being heard at the Cambridge Rent Control Board. This means that from current rents of about $335 per month we will all at once have to pay about $585 for apartments with one small bedroom.
Harvard Real Estate, Inc. bases its request for this increase on the following two factors: 1) they claim to have spent $83,000 last year on improvements to the exterior of the building; 2) they seek to double the already substantial profit margin on our building.
Harvard claims that the costly external capital improvements were necessary, yet many seem entirely cosmetic. The sudden large outlay for improvements was certainly increased by the repairs being long-overdue, a result of systematic long-term neglect, about which tenants challenged Harvard University 10 years ago; timely repairs would have been less costly. From the figures presented by Harvard Real Estate to the Rent Control Board it is clear that Harvard Real Estate is well able to meet all its operating expenses for the building at the current rent rates; even the recent external capital improvements would be absorbed by the current rates. Why should any landlord, especially Harvard, a non-profit institution, be allowed to seek great and sudden increases in profit?
Some tenants are facing yet a third increase, bringing new rents as high as $682 for the same size of apartment. Harvard Real Estate has been gutting units as they are vacated, then renovating and remodelling them to the tune of about $18,000 each. Like the external capital improvements to the building, these interior renovations seem to a large extent cosmetic; the remaining repairs are due to long-term neglect and lack of adequate routing maintenance.
Harvard Real Estate is using rent control to get, all at once, high market rates for our modest apartments. This practice obviously contributes to the shrinkage of affordable housing units in Cambridge. Some tenants have already had to move out of the building because of the proposed rent hikes.
The Cambridge community should be aware of what is happening in our building. Since the Rent Control Board has not yet decided on these cases, it should be able to avert the sudden increase and rein in this kind of unbridled landlord activity. Eleven Tenants of 472-474 Broadway