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Loss of Affordable Housing Plagues City

By Leigh S. Salsberg

In a dramatic 8-1 vote yesterday, Cambridge City Council endorsed last-minute mediation to discourage landlords from raising rent for tenants whose protected-status will expire at the end of 1995, leaving them vulnerable to rent-control laws passed last November.

The council agreed to provide staff to conduct negotiations between all interested tenants and their landlords, "with the purpose of reaching an agreement for a 1 year extension of tenancy...at an affordable rent."

Before the vote, 10 protected-status tenants--at least six of whom were senior citizens or were accompanied by young children--spoke in favor of the council's ordinance. They said their landlords had raised their rent astronomically and hat they could not find alternative affordable housing.

Ann Pepper came forward with her daughter, saying only that her December rent was $399 a month, while her January rent would be $950.

"I rob Peter to pay Paul every week," said Natalie Smith. "There are a lot of scared, frightened people out there with nowhere to turn."

Since November 1994, the council has received and approved about 1,500 applications for protected status, according to the council's ordinance. The council has already spent two million dollars to fund the new system.

Councillor Anthony D. Gallucio, the bill's sole opponent, said his vote was based on what he characterized as wasteful spending and lack of planning by the Rent Control Board.

According to Gallucio, the Board had not even compiled a list of Cambridge's protected tenants, nor had it identified how many exist.

The councillor also said he feared too much city intervention would give tenants a false sense of security.

"The City should not be on the backs of landlords anymore," he said. "Cambridge is joining the rest of the country in a free market economy."

But other council members, including Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72, supported the ordinance, saying that they had a moral imperative to prevent homelessness.

"If Cambridge is a good city at all, we have to see what we can do to ensure that every Cantabridgian has a home," Reeves said.

Tenants rejoiced over the ordinance's passage, and gathered in the lobby of City Hall to review their success after the meeting.

Bill Cavellini, a representative of a tenant organization Eviction Free Zone, said he was thrilled with the vote.

Tenants have bought time not only to negotiate with their landlords, he said, but also to work for the passage of more legislation.

Cavellini's group plans to lobby the city for ten million dollars a year for affordable housing, he said, and will continue to fight against rent-control policies.

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