Harvard Dorm Proposal Suffers Setback

Rent Control Laws Complicate Plans

Harvard's year-old proposal to build graduate student housing at a Mt. Auburn St. site was set back again last week after the release of a long-awaited city housing report.

In the most recent show of opposition to the project, a Rent Control Board investigator has determined "conclusively" that four apartments in the building at 10 Mt. Auburn St. are subject to Cambridge's stringent housing laws.

If, as expected, the full Rent Board approves the recommendation to make the apartments rent-controlled, Harvard officials said yesterday they would reconsider whether to proceed with converting the building into a 40-unit dormitory or sell the structure back to its original owner.

The building project has been the subject of intense scrutiny since the University announced in February its desire to tear down the 93-year old structure.

In April, amid growing opposition from neighbors and the City Council, Cambridge's historical commission declared the building "historically significant," resulting in a six-month moratorium on construction.


But before that period expired, Harvard abandoned its demolition plan. Earlier this month, University officials agreed to retain the turreted, wood-clapboard building and reduce the number of apartments from 50 to 40, as critics had demanded.

"Making those units rent controlled would place in the hands of the Rent Control Board and the City of Cambridge real power over what happens on that site," said tenant activist Michael H. Turk, a city council candidate who says he is opposed to the University's expansion into the Riverside neighborhood.

Under rent control laws, any University plans to rehabilitate the Mt. Auburn St. building would be subject to Rent Control Board review, Turk said last week.

Diminishing Numbers

The inclusion of four rent controlled units would leave 36 apartments for University affiliates--a number which may not make the project economically feasible, said Jacqueline A. O'Neill, Harvard's associate vice president for community affairs.

O'Neill said she was surprised that the hearing examiner found the maximum number of units under rent control.

"Four rent-controlled units is a lot because we started out with 50 units," she said. O'Neill said that Harvard had already been accomodating by using the old building instead of constructing a new, larger one on the site.

Harvard's lawyers told the hearing examiner in March that they did not think the building fell under the legal criteria for rent-controlled apartments.

Although Harvard officials claim they did not know tenants were living in the building when they purchased it in 1984, the report released last Thursday concluded that the previous owner must have known that the old hotel's apartments were used for residential purposes.

Manuel Uribe, who owned the building and who continues to operate it under a lease from Harvard, told The Crimson in February that there were no tenants living in the building. The report, however, said that Uribe occupied a residential unit on the third floor down the hall from another tenant.

The last tenants moved out of the building in April and three were relocated in Harvard housing, said tenant attorney Robert J. LaTremouille.

The full rent control board must now either approve or reject the hearing examiner's report before the building can be placed under rent control. The five-member body is likely to approve the recommendation later this week, observers say