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EFZ Presents Plan to Initiate City-Wide Rent Control

By Erik Snowberg

The Eviction Free Zone unveiled a plan to reinstitute rent control in Massachusetts at a city-wide tenants’ meeting last Tuesday. The group’s 12-step plan centers around a state-wide campaign for the 2000 elections.

The tenants’ meeting, held at the Cambridge Senior Center, was meant to gather feedback on EFZ’s plan. The input from those in the audience was almost entirely positive, with some members offering constructive comments based on their experience.

The audience’s comments also exposed a disagreement in tactics between EFZ and Cambridge Citizens United for Rent Equity (CCURE), another tenant activist group.

Different tactics, same goal

While EFZ is planning a state-wide campaign for the 2000 election, CCURE is pushing forward a local ballot initiative for this November. CCURE has already started collecting signatures to get its question on the local ballot.

CCURE’s initiative would restore rent control in Cambridge only. The language of the initiative deals with many of the concerns surrounding older rent control laws that ultimately led to their demise.

David A. Hoicka ’77, an organizer for CCURE who has been gathering signatures to put the initiative on the November ballot said that CCURE’s effort has generated a lot of excitement. “I have had people cross the street, stop their car and even get out of a taxi to talk about rent control and sign the petition,” he said. He also said that people from other cities and towns had told him that they were in need of rent control as well.

Hoicka, an MIT alumnus who sued the Institute in 1993, introduced a successful initiative last November which asked MIT to remove its nuclear reactor from Cambridge.

Some members of EFZ spoke against the November ballot initiative. Steven Meacham told the audience he felt that a ballot initiative would draw away energy from the statewide campaign and would not result in any net gain. Even if CCURE’s initiative petition were approved by a majority of Cambridge voters, it would still have to be approved as a home rule petition by the Massachusetts State Legislature. EFZ’s campaign will also seeka home rule petition.

Meacham and other members of EFZ felt that there was no chance of this happening. In the words of one member, they would be dismissed by the Legislature as “those Cambridge people.”

A twelve step plan for success

EFZ’s 12-step plan included ways to bring back rent control in Cambridge and other cities and towns in the Commonwealth. Rent control was abolished through a state-wide ballot initiative in 1994.

The initial steps of the plan have already been accomplished by EFZ through work over the past five years. Other steps, such as establishing ties with tenants groups outside of Cambridge, are already in the works.

The plan offers very few details about how EFZ will build a state-wide coalition. One of its flyers states that “Anything less than a statewide campaign is futile. Anything less than a broad based campaign will be defeated.”

Dean Grodzins, a Cambridge resident and author of the Comic Strip Tangents, said that he saw “no fundamental incompatibility between [CCURE and EFZ’s] strategies.” Elizabeth Koundakjian, a member of the organizing committee for EFZ’s Campaign to Save 2000 Homes, said that it was important for tenants to stick together and that the two organizations should encourage each other.

The EFZ is also trying to make affordable housing the main issue of Cambridge’s 1999 City Council election. In response to this point, Avi Green, a Cambridge resident, said, “So few people vote in elections you could easily make it the central issue in the upcoming election.”