Rent Control Advocates Prepare For Fall

Tenant Activists Form New Group

Cambridge tenant activists have formed a new group that organizer Michael H. Turk says will act on behalf of more individual concerns than the current Cambridge Rent Control Coalition (CRCC).

The Cambridge Tenants' Union, in planning since January, has scheduled a founding meeting for later this month. Turk said the older group was a collection of smaller organizations with more specific interests, which tended to exclude tenants with new personal grievances, or without interests specific enough to identify them with one of the groups.

The CRCC was founded in 1982 as an umbrella group but, according to Turk, it "took off as an organization in itself." However, some of the member groups "folded," while the "at-large" members of the CRCC had no clear status.

He said the CTU is simply the CRCC in a new form, but he believes a new structure will help the CTU to appeal to a larger constituency and better coordinate tenant activism "almost on a building-by-building basis."

Turk said the CTU's general goals involve a heightened public-relations campaign and increased pressure on the Rent Control Board.

Its first concrete challenge is expected to be a proposal from Councilor William H. Walsh, who said of the CTU yesterday, "they say they're not organizing because of me. I thought I'd been flattered for a minute."

A text that Walsh first circulated in May would, if enacted, decimate rent control policies in place since 1970. It would allow landlords of large buildings with rent-controlled apartments to return 70 percent of their units to the open market, while keeping the rest for the needy.

Landlords of buildings with three or fewer rent-controlled units could "decontrol" all of them by paying $2500 per unit into a general housing fund. Owners of buildings with between three and six units would have to leave one of them under rent control.

Other payments into the fund would come from higher property taxes on the decontrolled apartments and further unspecified city revenue. All would be used to "provide low-and moderate-income families and the elderly with housing opportunities in the City of Cambridge."

So far, the bill has met powerful opposition from advocates for rent control and the elderly.

Walsh has not formally proposed the bill, saying he will wait for the results from a study of people who benefit from rent-control that was independently requested by Councilor Sheila Russell. The study will provide statistics on their ages and incomes--"Especially incomes," said Russell, who cited "horror stories you hear about rich people living in rent-controlled apartments."