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City Council Approves Rent Control Petition

By Sewell Chan

Just nine hours before its 9 a.m. deadline, a divided City Council voted last night to petition the state legislature to preserve rent control for a maximum of five years, but only for certain categories of tenants.

Even before a vote could take place, however, leading tenant and landlord groups denounced the compromise as a sell-out and as a repudiation of democracy, respectively.

To rent control supporters' cries of "Shame, shame" the council voted 6-1-1 to adopt a 12-part home-rule petition that asks the state to keep rent control for some low- and moderate-income, elderly and handicapped tenants through 1999.

The 11:45 p.m. vote capped a week of daily city council meetings, as eight councillors strove to devise a response to the passage of Question 9--the ballot initiative repealing rent control that state voters approved November 8.

The 11-hour meeting was preceded by the arrest outside City Hall of one rent control supporter, Ellen AlWeQayan of Kirkland Street, after she slapped a Boston resident who owns property in Cambridge. Fearing a possible outbreak of violence following the vote, about 10 police officers stood guard outside the council chamber and in the lobby and stair-wells of City Hall.

Rep. Charles F. Flaherty (D-Cambridge), speaker of the state House of Representatives, warned last week that the council had to send a petition to Beacon Hill by morning today to have a chance of preventing the complete abolition of rent control on January 1, when Question 9 takes effect.

To take effect, the petition must still be passed by both houses of the legislature and signed by Gov. William F. Weld '66.

The six councillors who voted for the petition said it fails to provide adequate protection for rent-control tenants. But, faced with today's deadline and political necessity, they said it was the city's sole option.

"I don't see how anyone could possibly be pleased with the plan," Councillor Francis H. Duehay '55, who voted for it, told The Crimson.

"This is a fairly terrible plan, but I believe it's this plan or no plan," agreed Councillor Kathleen L. Born.

Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72, who had chaired the council's week-long negotiations, said the petition was the city's last hope.

"This is not what I want, what I would have done, what I designed, what I would like," Reeves told the council. "But I will not let tenants get pushed into the street because I was too radical to send something to the State House."

Katherine Triantafillou, the lone councillor to vote against the petition, said it did not contain modifications she thought the council had agreed upon.

"The summary I received today did not contain some of the changes I thought were going to be made," she told The Crimson.

Councillor Jonathan S. Myers, who abstained, tried to amend the compromise plan to include a "set-aside" clause that would allow large property owners to decontrol two-thirds of their units in exchange for designating one third for low- and moderate-income tenants.

"Unless there are other amendments, this would be the only compromise which would speak to low- and moderate-income tenants after the year 1999," Myers told the council before its 7-1 rejection of his amendment.

The Plan

If passed by Weld and the state legislature, the 17-page plan--which city officials worked to produce during a four-hour recess in the meeting--will result in the complete removal of all units from rent control by December 31, 1999.

The plan's 12 sections serve primarily to protect elderly, physically handicapped and "income eligible" tenants--those with incomes 90 percent or less than the median-income guidelines set up by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Its clauses stipulate:

* Decontrol on January 1 of one- to three-unit buildings;

* Decontrol on March 31 of four- to six-unit buildings, except for "income-eligible" tenants older than 62 or with children 19 or under, who would be protected through 1999;

* Decontrol on July 31 of buildings with seven or more units, except for "income-eligible," elderly or handicapped tenants, who would be protected through 1999;

* Controlled condominiums can be occupied by their owners starting January 1;

* Decontrol on January 1 of controlled condominiums not occupied by their owners, except for "income-eligible" tenants older than 62 or with children under 19, who would be protected for five years;

* Annual rent control increases permitted at five percent or the consumer-price index;

* Replacement of the current Rent Control Board with a Rent Equity Board which would oversee evictions.

'Unacceptable'

Even before the official vote, leaders of the four tenant and landlord groups involved in the Question 9 fight attacked the compromise.

Tenant activists said the council had abandoned rent control tenants in failing to permanently salvage some form of the 24-year-old program, which regulates 14,415 units in Cambridge, more than a third of the city's apartments.

"This proposal is far worse and far weaker than what Brookline is submitting to the state legislature," said Michael H. Turk, chair of the Cambridge Tenants Union (CTU). "All it provides for is a slightly delayed exodus of rent control tenants from the city of Cambridge."

"It sucks," said Lester P. Lee Jr., campaign chair of the pro-rent control Save Our Communities Coalition (SOCC), which spearheaded the fight against Question 9. "It's a capitulation. People need more protection than that. They need time to adjust."

Lee said the councillors had ignored the needs of Cantabrigians. "They want to depopulate the city and then gentrify it," he told The Crimson.

Rent control opponents agreed, but for different reasons. "This compromise plan is unacceptable," Denise A. Jillson, chair of the Massachusetts Homeowners Coalition (MHC), told the council.

"Your compromise fails to recognize what Question 9 intended," Jillson added. She said the plan unfairly placed responsibility for tenants' welfare on landlords' shoulders.

"I think it's too little, too late," agreed Linda B. Levine, co-chair of the Small Property Owners Association (SPOA). "It still leaves the largest property owners under a regulatory system for five years."

Public Response

The reactions of the more than 350 Cantabrigians who packed City Hall last night were equally unfavorable. Tenant activists passed out "I Pledge to Resist" stickers for rent control supporters, while others pledged a campaign of civil disobedience starting January 1.

Rent control tenants said they would be personally hurt by a weak petition to save rent control.

"I work so hard to support my kids, my income came probably to be a little bit too much than [the HUD guidelines]," said Coles Voyard, a two-year tenant who broke into tears as he addressed the council. "But I know next year it's going to be 10 times less. There is no hope for us."

Paul Landauer, a 19-year resident, expressed anger at what he deemed the council's abandonment of responsibility. "It's absolutely appalling that you indiscriminately throw me and people like myself to the wolves," he told the council. "I had planned to live where I live until I die."

Robert Lie, a tenant, said the petition is so ineffectual it is sure to pass.

"Believe me, [Weld's] going to sign this one," he told the council. "I say, let's wrap up the current rent control system and hand it to Charlie Flaherty."

In a new trend, several tenants said they planned to disobey Question 9, regardless of the success of the home-rule petition.

"We'll engage in civil disobedience," said Ellen Kaye, a member of the Eviction Free Zone, a tenant group. "We tried every way that we could to get the city to represent us. All that's left to us is to stay in our homes no matter what and to build a community that's strong."

But Question 9 supporters said the city is trying desperately to ignore a democratic referendum.

"Please respect the vote of the majority of the people of the Commonwealth," said John F. Gomes, 29-year resident.

Young C. Kim, who has owned rent-controlled property since 1981, said the city's obligation lay in protecting all minorities. "In the city of Cambridge, landlords are a minority and they should be protected, especially the small landlords who are struggling to make ends meet and to provide for the future of their children," Kim told the council.

And Barbara Pilgrim, a vocal landlord activist who plans to run for a council seat in 1995, disagreed with tenants' claims that rent increases would damage the city's economic diversity.

"You're saying you believe in diversity, but what you're trying to do is keep Black people in the projects," she said. "Most of the people in rent control are white, middle- and upper-class."

Final Remarks

The hour before the council vote was marked by impassioned speeches from the councillors.

"I would be concerned that Cambridge does not become a city of haves and have-nots," said Myers, who insisted on a clause allowing building owners with 10 or more units to set aside some units for low-income tenants in exchange for decontrolling others.

"I believe this kind of a 'set-aside' policy works only moderately well," Born said. She said a similar program in Brookline had only one-fourth of qualified owners participating.

Duehay charged that Myers had been unhelpful during the council's week-long negotiations. Myers "has not been very easy to reach or talk to," Duehay told the council.

"Not one phone call came to our house last weekend," Myers disagreed. "If the answer to this is to blame one member of the council, I think that's wrong."

Outbreak of Violence

The meeting was preceded by one of the first outbreaks of violence over rent control. In the closing moments of a SOCC rally that started at noon, Al-WeQayan was subdued by five Cambridge police officers and removed in a police wagon.

Al-WeQayan had apparently struck John F. Natale, 60, a leading landlord activist, while Natale was being interviewed on camera by Channel 56, a local station.

The Kirkland Street resident placed a "Vote No on 9" sign in front of Natale, blocking the camera's view. "I was interviewing him and she interjected a couple of times, he shouted her down, then she waved the sign," said Harris T. Hartman '95, an intern for Channel 56 who was interviewing Natale. "I personally did not see the sign hit him, [but] I'm not saying it didn't."

"I don't think she intended to harm him," said Pat Durkan, the Channel 56 camera operator who filmed the altercation. "I think she was frustrated."

Natale appeared to have been hit by the wooden stick on which the sign was attached. He struggled briefly with Al-WeQayan, who was forcibly pulled away by Tom D. Sullivan, 35, a Boston resident who owns a rent-control building in Cambridge.

Al-WeQayan and Sullivan struggled briefly before police officers broke up the fight. After an interval of nearly one minute, Al-WeQayan apparently slapped Sullivan, and was subdued by the officers, who pushed her to the ground and handcuffed her. Al-WeQayan was placed in a police wagon which appeared soon after she was arrested at 1:10 p.m. by Officer Thomas Ahern.

She was charged with assault and battery and will face arraignment tomorrow, according to the police. Sullivan told The Crimson he planned to press charges

To take effect, the petition must still be passed by both houses of the legislature and signed by Gov. William F. Weld '66.

The six councillors who voted for the petition said it fails to provide adequate protection for rent-control tenants. But, faced with today's deadline and political necessity, they said it was the city's sole option.

"I don't see how anyone could possibly be pleased with the plan," Councillor Francis H. Duehay '55, who voted for it, told The Crimson.

"This is a fairly terrible plan, but I believe it's this plan or no plan," agreed Councillor Kathleen L. Born.

Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72, who had chaired the council's week-long negotiations, said the petition was the city's last hope.

"This is not what I want, what I would have done, what I designed, what I would like," Reeves told the council. "But I will not let tenants get pushed into the street because I was too radical to send something to the State House."

Katherine Triantafillou, the lone councillor to vote against the petition, said it did not contain modifications she thought the council had agreed upon.

"The summary I received today did not contain some of the changes I thought were going to be made," she told The Crimson.

Councillor Jonathan S. Myers, who abstained, tried to amend the compromise plan to include a "set-aside" clause that would allow large property owners to decontrol two-thirds of their units in exchange for designating one third for low- and moderate-income tenants.

"Unless there are other amendments, this would be the only compromise which would speak to low- and moderate-income tenants after the year 1999," Myers told the council before its 7-1 rejection of his amendment.

The Plan

If passed by Weld and the state legislature, the 17-page plan--which city officials worked to produce during a four-hour recess in the meeting--will result in the complete removal of all units from rent control by December 31, 1999.

The plan's 12 sections serve primarily to protect elderly, physically handicapped and "income eligible" tenants--those with incomes 90 percent or less than the median-income guidelines set up by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Its clauses stipulate:

* Decontrol on January 1 of one- to three-unit buildings;

* Decontrol on March 31 of four- to six-unit buildings, except for "income-eligible" tenants older than 62 or with children 19 or under, who would be protected through 1999;

* Decontrol on July 31 of buildings with seven or more units, except for "income-eligible," elderly or handicapped tenants, who would be protected through 1999;

* Controlled condominiums can be occupied by their owners starting January 1;

* Decontrol on January 1 of controlled condominiums not occupied by their owners, except for "income-eligible" tenants older than 62 or with children under 19, who would be protected for five years;

* Annual rent control increases permitted at five percent or the consumer-price index;

* Replacement of the current Rent Control Board with a Rent Equity Board which would oversee evictions.

'Unacceptable'

Even before the official vote, leaders of the four tenant and landlord groups involved in the Question 9 fight attacked the compromise.

Tenant activists said the council had abandoned rent control tenants in failing to permanently salvage some form of the 24-year-old program, which regulates 14,415 units in Cambridge, more than a third of the city's apartments.

"This proposal is far worse and far weaker than what Brookline is submitting to the state legislature," said Michael H. Turk, chair of the Cambridge Tenants Union (CTU). "All it provides for is a slightly delayed exodus of rent control tenants from the city of Cambridge."

"It sucks," said Lester P. Lee Jr., campaign chair of the pro-rent control Save Our Communities Coalition (SOCC), which spearheaded the fight against Question 9. "It's a capitulation. People need more protection than that. They need time to adjust."

Lee said the councillors had ignored the needs of Cantabrigians. "They want to depopulate the city and then gentrify it," he told The Crimson.

Rent control opponents agreed, but for different reasons. "This compromise plan is unacceptable," Denise A. Jillson, chair of the Massachusetts Homeowners Coalition (MHC), told the council.

"Your compromise fails to recognize what Question 9 intended," Jillson added. She said the plan unfairly placed responsibility for tenants' welfare on landlords' shoulders.

"I think it's too little, too late," agreed Linda B. Levine, co-chair of the Small Property Owners Association (SPOA). "It still leaves the largest property owners under a regulatory system for five years."

Public Response

The reactions of the more than 350 Cantabrigians who packed City Hall last night were equally unfavorable. Tenant activists passed out "I Pledge to Resist" stickers for rent control supporters, while others pledged a campaign of civil disobedience starting January 1.

Rent control tenants said they would be personally hurt by a weak petition to save rent control.

"I work so hard to support my kids, my income came probably to be a little bit too much than [the HUD guidelines]," said Coles Voyard, a two-year tenant who broke into tears as he addressed the council. "But I know next year it's going to be 10 times less. There is no hope for us."

Paul Landauer, a 19-year resident, expressed anger at what he deemed the council's abandonment of responsibility. "It's absolutely appalling that you indiscriminately throw me and people like myself to the wolves," he told the council. "I had planned to live where I live until I die."

Robert Lie, a tenant, said the petition is so ineffectual it is sure to pass.

"Believe me, [Weld's] going to sign this one," he told the council. "I say, let's wrap up the current rent control system and hand it to Charlie Flaherty."

In a new trend, several tenants said they planned to disobey Question 9, regardless of the success of the home-rule petition.

"We'll engage in civil disobedience," said Ellen Kaye, a member of the Eviction Free Zone, a tenant group. "We tried every way that we could to get the city to represent us. All that's left to us is to stay in our homes no matter what and to build a community that's strong."

But Question 9 supporters said the city is trying desperately to ignore a democratic referendum.

"Please respect the vote of the majority of the people of the Commonwealth," said John F. Gomes, 29-year resident.

Young C. Kim, who has owned rent-controlled property since 1981, said the city's obligation lay in protecting all minorities. "In the city of Cambridge, landlords are a minority and they should be protected, especially the small landlords who are struggling to make ends meet and to provide for the future of their children," Kim told the council.

And Barbara Pilgrim, a vocal landlord activist who plans to run for a council seat in 1995, disagreed with tenants' claims that rent increases would damage the city's economic diversity.

"You're saying you believe in diversity, but what you're trying to do is keep Black people in the projects," she said. "Most of the people in rent control are white, middle- and upper-class."

Final Remarks

The hour before the council vote was marked by impassioned speeches from the councillors.

"I would be concerned that Cambridge does not become a city of haves and have-nots," said Myers, who insisted on a clause allowing building owners with 10 or more units to set aside some units for low-income tenants in exchange for decontrolling others.

"I believe this kind of a 'set-aside' policy works only moderately well," Born said. She said a similar program in Brookline had only one-fourth of qualified owners participating.

Duehay charged that Myers had been unhelpful during the council's week-long negotiations. Myers "has not been very easy to reach or talk to," Duehay told the council.

"Not one phone call came to our house last weekend," Myers disagreed. "If the answer to this is to blame one member of the council, I think that's wrong."

Outbreak of Violence

The meeting was preceded by one of the first outbreaks of violence over rent control. In the closing moments of a SOCC rally that started at noon, Al-WeQayan was subdued by five Cambridge police officers and removed in a police wagon.

Al-WeQayan had apparently struck John F. Natale, 60, a leading landlord activist, while Natale was being interviewed on camera by Channel 56, a local station.

The Kirkland Street resident placed a "Vote No on 9" sign in front of Natale, blocking the camera's view. "I was interviewing him and she interjected a couple of times, he shouted her down, then she waved the sign," said Harris T. Hartman '95, an intern for Channel 56 who was interviewing Natale. "I personally did not see the sign hit him, [but] I'm not saying it didn't."

"I don't think she intended to harm him," said Pat Durkan, the Channel 56 camera operator who filmed the altercation. "I think she was frustrated."

Natale appeared to have been hit by the wooden stick on which the sign was attached. He struggled briefly with Al-WeQayan, who was forcibly pulled away by Tom D. Sullivan, 35, a Boston resident who owns a rent-control building in Cambridge.

Al-WeQayan and Sullivan struggled briefly before police officers broke up the fight. After an interval of nearly one minute, Al-WeQayan apparently slapped Sullivan, and was subdued by the officers, who pushed her to the ground and handcuffed her. Al-WeQayan was placed in a police wagon which appeared soon after she was arrested at 1:10 p.m. by Officer Thomas Ahern.

She was charged with assault and battery and will face arraignment tomorrow, according to the police. Sullivan told The Crimson he planned to press charges

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