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Kaufman Distorts Housing Issues



I am writing in response to Joshua A. Kaufman's column entitled "Should Doris Live Here?" (Dec. 11, 1995). Kaufman argues that a "distorted notion of fairness is the common rationale behind [Cambridge] residents' call for Harvard to 'divest' of its Cambridge real estate interests."

This issue is not one of fairness per se, though many argue that it is not fair for a tax-exempt institution, perhaps the wealthiest university in the world, to make what some estimate to be a 600 percent profit (rather than the current estimated 30 percent) at the expense of Cambridge residents.

The issue, instead, is that many people will have to give up their homes; with rent-control no longer a law in Cambridge, a significant number of these people may be on the streets. Do we really want more homeless in Cambridge?

The issue is that only affiliates (this means faculty and graduate students, basically--dining hall workers and clerical and technical workers are excluded from this category) of Harvard will be allowed to move into the units that Harvard isn't selling for high profit once current residents are forced to move out. Housing is currently open to everyone, affiliates and community alike, low and moderate income as well as faculty who can afford to pay more. Do we really want to exclude Cambridge residents from a significant portion of Cambridge housing? Do we really want to live in a community that is exclusively Harvard?

Kaufman suggests that Cambridge residents want to live here mainly because Harvard has made it a "clean, safe and vibrant neighborhood" and asks if anyone would protest for affordable housing in New Haven. But while this is arguably true of Harvard Square and its surroundings, it is by no means true of all the 700 units that Harvard owns. Is Kaufman suggesting that people would rather not be able to live in a home at all than live in someplace less "vibrant" than Harvard Square? Cambridge residents lived in Cambridge long before Harvard bought a large amount of its current properties in the 1960s.

Finally, I must correct Kaufman on some facts. Harvard is planning to sell some of its units, 24 houses. I am not the chair of Phillips Brooks House's Committee on Housing Rights, though I am a member and our committee does endorse the community groups' and the city's proposal that Harvard and the City of Cambridge jointly fund a program which would allow all of Harvard's formerly rent-controlled housing units to be purchased at below market cost by tenants or continue as rental units owned by the city's non-profit community development corporations. And our committee's presence at the rally has nothing to do with "reciprocity," "solidarity" or the socialist movement.

We, along with hundreds of students, alumni and faculty who have signed statements of support, simply don't want to see more homeless on the streets, and we want longtime Cambridge residents to be able to afford their homes. --Shoshana L. Weiner '98

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