The Cambridge City Council last night voted to send two petitions to the state legislature--one that would end zoning exemptions for universities in Cambridge, and another that would prevent landlords from evicting tenants from rental apartments in order to convert them into condominiums.
Both resolutions will be introduced as legislation in the State House in 1979. If the legislature adopts either bill their provisions will apply only to Cambridge.
Councilor Mary Ellen Preusser, who sponsored the "home-rule" petition seeking to end zoning exemptions for Harvard and other Cambridge universities, said it was spurred partly by neighborhood protest over Harvard's plans to build the Radcliffe gymnasium on Observatory Hill.
Even if the legislature passes the bill it would come too late to prevent that construction and other projects which are already underway. However, "it could affect any intrusions they might want to make into residential areas at any time in the future," David Vickery, assistant city manager for community development, said last night.
Preusser said she thought the petitions has a good chance of becoming law since "home-rule" petitions are traditionally accepted."
The council also voted to introduce legislation next year that would "close the loopholes in the eviction laws that allow landlords to throw out tenants so they can convert their holdings to condominiums," Councilor Saundra Graham said last night.
The legislation is especially aimed at protecting Cambridge's elderly, who Councilor Alfred E. Vellucci termed "the real victims of this scheme" to convert rental units into condominiums. Graham said the number of elderly seeking housing in Cambridge has doubled in recent years, largely because of the condominium conversions.
Harvard received some of the blame for the increase in condominium conversions. "There's no doubt that the problem has been compounded by Harvard University expansion and subsidy programs, which will both reduce the number of liveable, affordable homes," David Sullivan, a Cambridge resident and lawyer for the Alliance of Cambridge Tenants, told the council.
The University subsidy that Sullivan referred to was Harvard's recent announcement that it would provide up to $2 million to aid faculty members in finding housing in Cambridge. "That was like giving a lemon drop to the speculators--it made them drool," Vellucci said.
The Council approved a similar bill introduced at the state level last year, but it never reached the floor of the State House. Graham said that the bill's chances this year aren't much better, but "it's worth a try. I think that we are gaining some support."