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MIT sues RCB over Blanche St. delays

By Joanna E. Stone

MIT is filing a suit against the City of Cambridge Rent Control Board over its recent decision to delay issuing certificates of eviction for the MIT-owned houses located on Blanche Street. A hearing is being held today at Middlesex County Court to consider the suit.

The board decided two weeks ago to delay the eviction certificates "until MIT presents evidence to the [Rent Control Board's] executive director that it has secured financing of the development proposed for the subject sites."

Currently, there are two MIT-owned three-decker houses remaining on Blanche Street. These two buildings -- occupied by a

total of four people -- are perhaps the only thing standing in the way of MIT's completing the final piece of its plan for University Park: the building of a hotel and convention center in the

so-called Simplex parcel in Cambridgeport.

On June 28, 1989, the Rent Control Board granted MIT removal permits for the Blanche Street houses, approving MIT's relocation of the buildings to a site 1000 feet away from their present location, on the condition that MIT agree to pay for interim housing for the tenants and on the conditional basis that MIT provide 12 additional rent control units to the city.

According to the attorney

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representing MIT, Scott P. Lewis of the Palmer and Dodge law firm, MIT has lived up to its side of the agreement.

A building was constructed on Brookline Street, on the perimeter of University Park, for the purpose of providing six rent controlled units. Also, six units from other MIT-owned housing were converted to rent control units.

All 12 units are now occupied by low-income tenants, who were taken from waiting lists for Cambridge public housing, according to Lewis. In addition, MIT has supplied tenants with a list of temporary relocation provisions, including several hotels to choose from, Lewis said.

"There are no cases that I'm aware of in which the Cambridge Rent Control Board extracted so much housing benefits" as they have from the development of University Park, Lewis said.

"The board made an agreement, we've lived up to our side of it, we've provided all that they requested and now they're asking for more," Lewis said.

According to Lewis, MIT's hope is that by prevailing in the suit they will force the Rent Control Board to provide the certificates of evictions according to the conditions requested in June rather than the additional conditions requested from the board's recent decision.

A decade of controversy

Today's hearing represents the latest in the series of what Lewis termed as many years of "extraordinarily torturous litigation."

The controversy over the Blanche Street houses began about a decade ago, when three three-decker buildings located on Blanche Street, owned by MIT, were left vacant and uninhabitable.

The buildings gained the public spotlight in 1988 when protesters constructed a "Tent City" on MIT-owned land and asked MIT to allow them to renovate the houses so that the homeless could live in them.

People claimed that MIT had purposely allowed these houses to deteriorate in order to remove them from the rental market and vacate the land, in an attempt to expedite the development of University Park.

Tenants' hardship

is a consideration

Since the board's June 28, 1989 decision to grant MIT removal permits, there have been several hearings in which representatives for the tenants have argued for a reversal or delay of the removal permits, in light of the immeasurable hardship imposed on the relocating tenants.

In a board hearing this past fall, John Mason, a lawyer arguing for the tenants, claimed that when the permits were granted to allow MIT to relocate the houses on Blanche Street, it was with the understanding that University Park would be able to be completed.

"It was never even considered that these tenants be forced to undergo the hardship of relocation so that the land could remain vacant for an unforeseeable number of years," Mason said.

Peter Valentine, a resident of Blanche Street for over 20 years, was called to the stand to represent the intangible hardship that will be suffered by tenants due to a relocation that could, in the end, have no purpose.

Valentine began his testimony by stating that he could not be moved from his home because he was currently in karma with his energy fields and relocation

might jeopardize this karma.

This speech was accompanied by unadmitted evidence, including a bag of gray hair which Valentine claimed had been his own and a display of other hairs which he said showed he had found a way to turn grey hair back to its original color without the use of chemicals, "in other words, to reverse the aging process."

Valentine claimed that if research like his were occurring at MIT, all efforts would be made to accommodate the researcher. He believes that he must remain at his current residence, in its current location, in order to continue his research.

In their decision two weeks ago to delay the certificates of eviction, the board said, "Given the severe disruptive effects of relocation the board was genuinely concerned that that not occur, unless and until the development was going to materialize."

The Rent Control Board did note that "In voting (3-2) to delay the evictions . . . the board has not changed its original findings. . . . Based upon representations by counsel for MIT that a financial commitment was imminent and that this was the last impediment to the project, the board concluded that such a requirement was not unreasonable."