Cambridge is one step closer to obtaining legal authority to tighten up rent control regulations, thanks to a measure passed by a state legislative commitee last week.
Now on its way to the State Senate for review, the petition known as "C 1/2" will give the city power to ban owners of multi-unit rent-controlled buildings from selling off one unit at a time--thus preventing the conversion of rent-controlled apartments to condominiums.
C 1/2 is a "home-rule petition," a measure which is applied for by one town or city--in this case, Cambridge--which gives the local government more power without changing overall state regulations.
In an apparent attempt to mollify Cambridge small property owners--who oppose C 1/2--the legislature's joint local affairs committee added two controversial amendments to the petition before forwarding the bill to the Senate.
The first exempts owners of rent-controlled buildings with less than six units, allowing them to sell apartments individually to investors. The other amendment requires that Cambridge report back to the state legislature by July, 1991 on its progress in addressing complaints about the rent-control system made by property owners.
But neither supporters nor opponents of C 1/2 had much good to say about the two amendments. Rent control opponents said that the changes did not alleviate what they see as major problems with C 1/2. And rent control advocates said the amendments favoring land lords could pose a potential threat to rent control.
"The bill should never have been amended and should not be amended any more," said Sen. Michael J. Barrett '70 (D-Cambridge), local affairs committee chair and a strong advocate for C 1/2.
Barrett said the second amendment is especially dangerous because it allows the state to interfere in what should be a local issue.
"I think the opponents have a long-term strategy here--to narrow the bounds of what is permissible under rent control," said Barrett. "I'm very concerned about what they've got in store next."
And rent control critics said they saw the amendments as little more than a symbolic effort by the committee to appease them.
"It was a nice try by certain legislators who are sympathetic to us, but they missed their mark," said Small Property Owners Association (SPOA) Co-Chair John F. Natale.
Natale said he would have preferred an amendment exempting all owner-occupants of buildings from the ban on selling individual units.
"I don't think [the amendments] really help anbody," said Councillor William H. Walsh. "I think it was a cowardly way out by the legislature."
Walsh said the city is losing $8.8 million in revenues because of rent control, and added that people are taking advantage of the system.
"Help the poor, help families, help the homeless, help the aged, help those who need it--but don't protect the wealthy," said Walsh. "Why should a guy making $50,000 a year be in a rent-controlled apartment--that's stupid."