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University, Cambridge Agree on Housing Plan

News Analysis

By R. ALAN Leo

After more than a year of consultation, including a nine-month deadlock, the University and the city of Cambridge have agreed on the fate of Harvard's nearly 700 formerly rent-controlled properties.

Under a plan proposed by the Harvard and unanimously endorsed Monday night by the City Council, the University will sell 100 units to the city at below-market prices, set aside 74 units for its current low-income tenants, and convert the remaining apartments to housing for Harvard affiliates.

Cambridge and Harvard officials attributed the final accord to common goals and a lengthy process of town-gown consultation.

According to Susan K. Keller, vice president of residential real estate at Harvard Planning and Real Estate (HPRE), Harvard was already reexamining its Cambridge property in 1994 when Question Nine--the state referendum which abolished rent control--was proposed.

"As an institution, we were looking at all the properties, and looking to see if they were in line with our needs as a university," Keller said.

Harvard-Cambridge talks about the future of the University's formerly rent-controlled properties began in the spring of 1995. At that time, Harvard owned nearly 700 formerly rent-controlled units, which had comprised about 5 percent of the city's rent control housing.

At the preliminary meetings, Housing Committee members expressed two main concerns, according to committee member and Councillor Anthony D. Galluccio.

First, the committee sought protection for Harvard's current low-income occupants from large rent increases. Second, the committee wanted to preserve permanent affordable housing in a city that had lost 15,000 affordable housing units with the end of rent control.

After a summer of discussion, HPRE unveiled its plan for the properties. In a letter to the Housing Committee dated October 12, 1995, Spiegelman proposed to gradually raise Harvard's rents to market level, and to fill apartments as they vacated with Harvard affiliates.

In addition, the University proposed to keep rents at rent-control levels until 1998 for its 94 low-income tenants and to set aside 10 percent of its units as affordable housing for 20 years. The University also proposed to sell 24 of its apartment buildings--mostly small, wood-frame houses--on the open market.

The City Council strongly opposed the HPRE proposal. Councillor Kathleen L. Born said that as a result of Harvard's plan, "the city would be polarized between rich, poor and transients."

The council called for Harvard to sell its units to its tenants below market cost. Harvard officials rejected the request, and pointed out that the University already planned to do more for its tenants than any other Cambridge landlord.

The school and the city reentered discussions. As Galluccio pointed out, the city was not in a position to deal. After the abolition of rent control, Harvard was legally free to raise rents, sell properties or convert to affiliate housing.

But according to Keller, the University still sought a solution that would satisfy community needs as well as the University's educational mission.

"We wanted a partnership," she said. "We at Harvard have always wanted to be good neighbors."

On May 16, Harvard submitted a second proposal, which after a month of committee deliberation was endorsed by the council Monday night.

According to Galluccio, the new plan comes much closer than the first to satisfying the committee's original concerns for current tenant protection and long-term affordable housing.

By selling 100 units to the city, Galluccio said, Harvard has ensured that more low-income tenants will live in its formerly rent-controlled property than did under rent control.

By screening tenants for need, he said, the city can ensure that only low-income residents live in the 100 apartments. Under rent control, on the other hand, anyone could live in a rent-controlled apartment, regardless of income.

Overall, Harvard has committed 26 percent of its formerly rent-controlled property to affordable housing, an amount which pleases city leaders and many community activists.

Keller said she is happy to have worked with the city, and that she hopes dialogue continues.

But Harvard officials say the University is through as a Cambridge landlord. In a June 19 meeting with the Housing Committee, Spiegelman told the councillors that Harvard has decided that management of rental housing for non-affiliates does not have a core connection to Harvard's mission

The council called for Harvard to sell its units to its tenants below market cost. Harvard officials rejected the request, and pointed out that the University already planned to do more for its tenants than any other Cambridge landlord.

The school and the city reentered discussions. As Galluccio pointed out, the city was not in a position to deal. After the abolition of rent control, Harvard was legally free to raise rents, sell properties or convert to affiliate housing.

But according to Keller, the University still sought a solution that would satisfy community needs as well as the University's educational mission.

"We wanted a partnership," she said. "We at Harvard have always wanted to be good neighbors."

On May 16, Harvard submitted a second proposal, which after a month of committee deliberation was endorsed by the council Monday night.

According to Galluccio, the new plan comes much closer than the first to satisfying the committee's original concerns for current tenant protection and long-term affordable housing.

By selling 100 units to the city, Galluccio said, Harvard has ensured that more low-income tenants will live in its formerly rent-controlled property than did under rent control.

By screening tenants for need, he said, the city can ensure that only low-income residents live in the 100 apartments. Under rent control, on the other hand, anyone could live in a rent-controlled apartment, regardless of income.

Overall, Harvard has committed 26 percent of its formerly rent-controlled property to affordable housing, an amount which pleases city leaders and many community activists.

Keller said she is happy to have worked with the city, and that she hopes dialogue continues.

But Harvard officials say the University is through as a Cambridge landlord. In a June 19 meeting with the Housing Committee, Spiegelman told the councillors that Harvard has decided that management of rental housing for non-affiliates does not have a core connection to Harvard's mission

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