Rent Control Puts Students, Owners at War

Rent control has been the most contentious political issue in Cambridge for three decades, inspiring petitions, ballot referendums, lawsuits and appeals.

Throughout all the controversy, the issue has often seemed incidental to the lives of Harvard undergraduates.

But rent control has an important, if unnoticed, effect on the entire undergraduate population.

Pro-rent control groups says the measure, by ensuring affordable housing for lower and middle class citizens, helps keep Cambridge diverse. Without it, students might not have the same experience when they walk through Cambridge or talk to its residents.

If rent control were abolished, "Cambridge would have more of an appeal for a higher income crowd," says Malcolm Kaufman, a member of the pro-rent control Cambridge Tenants Union. "It would probably become more homogeneous, much whiter, much richer and much more professional."

But Linda Levine, co-chair of the anti-rent control Small Property Owners Association, disagrees. "Studies have shown that it creates gentrification, not diversity," she says.

Regardless of whether rent control promotes diversity, numerous students who live in thecity's rent-controlled apartments say they supportthe measure because it makes going to college moreaffordable.

Edward L. Bertrand '92-'94, who lives in arent-controlled two-room apartment off Mass. Ave.,says his apartment would be "prohibitivelyexpensive" on the open market.

His landlord, who asked not to be identified,say Bertrand's apartment, which he now rents for$311 per month, would cost $600 on the openmarket.

The landlord says she loses $500-$600 a monthin rents because of rent control. She says themeasure makes it more difficult for her to carefor her building.

If there were no rent control, "I'd have tocharge a little more," the landlord says, "but I'drealize that $500 is prohibitive for a collegestudent."

One Harvard student says he sides with thelandlord on the issue of rentcontrol. Johan H.Hueffer '95-'96, who is an editor of The Crimsonowns a city condominium which he sublets duringthe summer.

He says rent control costs him between $100 and$200 a month in lost rents.

Hueffer says rent control is not a soundeconomic policy. "It distorts the marketmechanism," he says. "It makes it tougher for lowincome tenants to find housing."

Levine says Harvard students have been tenantsin her building on Mount Auburn St. She says mostof them did not need the financial assistanceprovided by rent control.