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Tenants Petition to Purchase Part Of the Craigie Circle Apartments

By Georgia N. Alexakis

Spurred on by a desire for affordable housing, tenants of the Craigie Circle Apartment Complex on Sunday presented their landlord, Stu-Lin Realty Trust, with a petition supporting a proposal that tenants purchase a portion of the building.

Concerned that once rent control ends in December rent rates will skyrocket, 350 people, including Mayor Sheila Doyle Russell, Vice Mayor Kathleen L. Born and city councillors Henrietta S. Davis, Michael A. Sullivan and Kenneth E. Reeves '72, signed the petition.

"If we were able to buy this as a limited equity co-op, we would do a better job of administration," said Sonia E. Andujar, a tenant and organizer with the Friends of Craigie Circle, the group behind the proposal.

Stu-Lin Realty Trust was not available for comment.

Craigie Circle, an 82-unit building located in West Cambridge, houses approximately 20 low-to-moderate income families, according to Andujar.

Under a federally subsidized program, Andujar said, these tenants contribute 30 percent of their income for rent. The federal government pays the rest. But this will no longer be the case after rent control ends in December 1996.

The group hopes that Stu-Lin, the second-largest landlord in the city, will follow the example set by Harvard University, the city's largest landlord.

The University recently agreed to sell 100 units of housing to the city at below-market prices and to cap rent increases at 5 percent per year.

"We were creating a partnership that provided affordable housing for the city and allowed for exclusive affiliate use of the remaining apartments owned by the University," said Susan Keller, director of residential real estate for Harvard. "We felt we could wrap these objectives in our proposal."

Louise Dunlap, a tenant and proposal organizer, said she doubts that Stu-Lin will follow Harvard's example.

"It is not worthwhile for them to sell when they can charge high rent rates," Dunlap said.

Public records show that Stu-Lin already paid the mortgage on the Craigie Circle property before the end of rent control after buying it in 1986 for $1.7 million.

"We're trying to argue that it is worthwhile for them to be a responsible member of the community. There is a real value in trying to preserve the diversity," Dunlap said.

While Friends of Craigie Circle have yet to make an offer for the building they hope to acquire, Cambridge has a $2.25 million tenant assistance fund into which the group hopes to dip.

"The city is concerned with affordable housing," Dunlap said. "Tenants can't control rents, but we can set up co-ops that we will own and operate."

Community organizations such as the Eviction Free Zone have expressed support of Craigie Circle's proposal. Steve Meachan, one of the group's organizers, characterized Stu-Lin as "aggressively anti-rent control."

"Stu-Lin is making such a high level of profit that they can easily support what the tenants are asking for," said Meachan.

But other petitioners, including Councillor Sullivan, see the issue in a different light.

"My understanding of the petition was that it would not force anyone to do anything. The two groups must come to a mutual agreement," said Sullivan. "We should strive to reach an agreement with the landlords, the city, and tenants on a voluntary basis to achieve affordable housing. I was not focusing on the past when I signed the petition but rather saw something to reach for in the future.

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