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Loss of Rent Control Will Affect Housing

By Stacey E. Blau
Staff Reporter

The looming issue of the elimination of rent control in Cambridge may have implications for many MIT graduate students and the housing situation at MIT.

On election day in November, Massachusetts voters narrowly approved Question 9, a measure that will end rent control as of Jan. 1, in Cambridge, Brookline, and Boston, the only communities in Massachusetts with rent control. The ballot question was approved by 51 percent of the voters.

The Cambridge City Council attempted to stave off the end of rent control by passing a home-rule petition which would phase out rent control in Cambridge over a five-year period.

Massachusetts Gov. William Weld vetoed the bill on Friday. Brookline and Boston have passed similar home rules which Weld has indicated he will veto as well.

The elimination of rent control may have consequences for MIT graduate students, 70 percent of whom live off campus, said Linda L. Patton, housing manager of the Graduate Housing Office. Approximately 15 percent of MIT graduate students live in rent-controlled apartments, she said.

"The rental market has gotten tighter" over the past few years, Patton said. "The end of rent control means that rents off campus will probably go up in general, and there will be fewer apartments" available. "There will be more competition for affordable housing," she said.

Rent-controlled apartments are difficult to find, in part because of their scarcity, Patton said. They are "rarely advertised" and "mostly discovered by word of mouth," she said.

"Cambridge is the most affected" by the elimination of rent control, Patton said. Most graduate students who live off campus live in Cambridge or Somerville. In Somerville, "rents are generally lower," she said.

Some students think that they will have to move out of their apartments if rent control is abolished. "I don't think that I can afford an increase in my rent," Heinrich J. Schwarz G said.

Schwarz currently pays $475 per month for his Cambridge apartment. "More than a 5 percent increase" would force him to move out, he said. "It's very hard at the moment to say what I am going to do," Schwarz said. "I can't predict what my landlord will do."

MIT should "try to use its influence to protect rent control if it can," Schwarz said. The Institute should "make clear why rent control might be necessary" in a city with two major universities. "There are just a lot of students," he said.

Susan C. Eaton G agreed. "MIT should take a position supporting" rent control, she said. "The stipends and teaching assistantships should be more realistically" geared to the needs of graduate students, she said. "They cover rent, and that's about it," she said.

Eaton thinks that she will have to move if there is "any substantial increase" in her rent. "They've been trying so much to raise the rent," she said. "I think we may have to move."

The Graduate Student Council is "pretty focused on the on-campus situation" in housing, said Joseph J. Bambenek G, co-chair of the GSC Housing and Community Affairs Committee. "We work on the issues that someone with a concern comes to us with," he said. "No one has approached us on the rent control issue, so we haven't had to deal with it," he said.

"We want there to be enough affordable, relatively convenient, somewhat socially rewarding, and safe on-campus housing spaces to accommodate grad students who want to live on campus," Bambenek said.

The GSC also wants an off-campus housing office "to help students find safe and affordable housing off-campus and serve as a resource for information regarding leases and tenant rights and responsibilities," Bambenek added.

The administration is "reviewing building another building" to house students, Patton said. But it is "three to four years from the planning to the opening" of a dormitory, she said. "It is a goal."

"We are making an effort to guarantee all first-year graduate students on-campus housing," Patton said. Last year, 90 percent of first-year graduate students lived on campus, she said. Family housing is presently guaranteed for two years. "There is only a limited amount of space," Patton said.

About 200 graduate students currently live in MIT-owned off-campus housing in Cambridge, said Joseph McGuire, property manager of the Institute Real Estate Office. In response to election-day results, some MIT graduate students living in MIT off-campus housing "were afraid that rents were immediately going to double," McGuire said.

But according to Sarah E. Gallop, assistant for government relations in the President's Office of Government and Community Relations, MIT "does not anticipate making any significant changes" in rent prices. "Once a year, we look at the rents and make adjustments," she said.

MIT owns only about 40 rent-controlled units, Gallop said.

By contrast, Harvard University, a large force in Cambridge real estate, owns about 700 rent-controlled units, McGuire said.