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Born Focusing on Affordable Housing

By Sanjay Basu

Cambridge Councilor Kathleen Born ‘77, running for reelection in this year’s city council race, has announced that she will focus her platform on affordable housing, neighborhood preservation, and services for children and families.

The MIT alumna and mother of four children built her political career by working on affordable housing issues, although she refused to sign a recent rent control petition drafted by David Hoicka ‘77 and other candidates.

Born said that the petition “was not appropriate. At this point, rent control is a state issue and not a local issue. I was a very vocal supporter of rent control before Question 9 eliminated it. I was upset that it was eliminated.”

Born added that drafting a rent control measure now would be unconstructive for the Cambridge City Council because the institution of any measure would require state governor approval.

But Born still plans to focus a good deal of her work on affordable housing. “I feel that I have a good handle on the issue and I have the knowledge necessary to deal with it. I have been working with Senator Kerry and our local branch of HUD to preserve the 500 units of housing called Fresh Pond Apartments,” Born said. “These are the buildings that are called ‘expiring use’ homes... The owners of these projects have been trying to end their affordability and convert them to market rate housing, and that is a real danger for this city.”

Born attended a discussion session on affordable housing last week. She sat among a group of about 150 Cambridge residents who were confronting apartment rate increases.

“There was real fear in their faces,” said Born. “They’re tough people, but the terror of losing their homes is a harrowing dilemma. I consider it my responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen to anybody.”

Born has been working to preserve about 3000 remaining “expiring use” buildings in Cambridge, which were developed in the late seventies under Johnson’s Great Frontier program. She also stated her intent to double the resources Cambridge devotes to practical goals like the construction of affordable housing.

Relationship of MIT and city

Born said she became active in community affairs while attending MIT. “What I learned at MIT was a big reason for my getting involved in politics,” she said. “There was a sense of social justice. And I was being trained as an architect, so I had to ask myself: ‘What makes a good city?’”

Born spoke fondly of MIT, but also said that, after raising four children in Cambridge, she became aware of the problems associated with universities and the rest of the city.

“We have very, very bright students in Cambridge public schools,” she said. “There is no excuse for our not having public schools that are top in the nation. If we have two of the top universities in the country here, we can have the best schools in the country as well. Universities may think they have done their share, but they clearly haven’t.”

Born also said that although institutions in Cambridge have a great deal of wealth and brain power, the companies spun-off from them contributed to the current affordable housing problem by gentrifying the city. As a city councilor, she plans to establish a “real partnership between these institutions and the public schools.

Born called for students to become more involved in community service in order to change the current state of affairs in Cambridge.

“I learned a lot about social activism at MIT,” she said. “I also learned that if you want to get involved in the community, you have to come and volunteer.”

Born described her method of paying for MIT tuition. “I worked my way through MIT by cooking,” she said. “There was a weekly eat-out called the Baked Forum. For three years, I sold lunch to about 300 students to pay for school. These were the days before the Falafel Trucks... I guess I don’t know what it’s like today.”

Born on Snowberg’s campaign

Born expressed support for fellow candidate Erik C. Snowberg ’99, the first student in Cambridge to run for a city council position.

“I think that having Snowberg run is a tremendous opportunity,” she said. “I think it’s welcome, because we haven’t seen any involvement from students in the past. They don’t tend to vote and there appears to be a good amount of student apathy.”

Born contrasted that apathy to the political involvement of students at MIT during her undergraduate years.

“I think that students need an issue to get involved around. When I was a student at MIT, students were committed to social activism... the reason I went to MIT instead of Harvard is that I felt MIT had a conscience. People at Harvard were running in bowties. At MIT, they were wearing blue jeans. MIT had a connection with the real America.”

Born hopes that more students get involved in Cambridge life, mainly through service. “I think that for students to be involved in the political life of the city, community service is the entree. My involvement started because of my commitment to public school education and zoning issues in my community. I think more students need to find their own issues to commit to.”