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Empty Apartments at Worthington Costing MIT $90,000 Each Month

By Rima Arnaout

Over 44 graduate students had to move out of the Worthington Place housing complex after MIT’s one-year subsidy of 66 apartments expired. In the meanwhile, MIT is paying $2110/month to rent 44 empty units at Worthington, according to resident Julie L. Eisenhard G.

The Graduate Student Council “only recently realized the fact that” the Worthington units have been empty since the graduate students moved out August 31, 1999, said Graduate Student Council President Luis A. Ortiz G.

The graduate students “chose to move out,” said MIT Treasurer Allan S. Bufferd. Market prices “increased at a more rapid rate than anybody anticipated. Those individuals who were renting, I am assuming, came to the conclusion that those new rates were unacceptable ... and sought alternate housing,” Bufferd said.

Ortiz thinks that making the Worthington units available will help relieve the already pressured graduate housing situation. “It’s horrible to spend money to rent a place that isn’t inhabited,” Ortiz said.

The Worthington situation comes at a time when MIT is feeling pressure to provide housing for its graduate population. Plans for the graduate dormitory on Pacific and Sidney Streets in Cambridge have been pushed back until 2003.

MIT also has plans to renovate a defunct factory on Albany Street to house graduate students, but that project is not due for completion until August 2001.

MIT bound to seven-year lease

In 1998, MIT agreed with the owner of Worthington Place, on 265 Third Street in Kendall Square, to rent 66 apartment units for 90 percent of market price for six years.

For the ’98-’99 academic year, MIT rented 36 units to graduate students who had been displaced from Tang Hall to make room for undergrads.

MIT promised to subsidize the Worthington apartments for one year so that the displaced graduate students could rent the for the Tang rate.

Other graduate students could rent 30 units for $1,500 per month. MIT also rented 25 additional units to lease to MIT affiliates at $1,700 per month.

In fall 1999 when the one-year subsidy ended, the price for a two-bedroom Worthington unit jumped from $1450 to $2110 per month, forcing most graduate students to find alternate housing.

Some of the students who moved out of Worthington have re-entered the graduate housing lottery, Ortiz said, while others entered the Cambridge housing market.

The Treasurer’s Office declined to give specific numbers concerning exactly how many Worthington units are currently empty, how many are being rented to non-MIT affiliates, and how much money MIT was spending renting out the empty units, saying the information was not pertinent to this story.

GSC maps out plan of action

The question of what to do about Worthington was raised at Wednesday’s GSC meeting. Ortiz suggested that Worthington rooms be part of the graduate housing lottery.

Since MIT is “spending that money already, they might as well get the most out of the money as they can and make affordable housing reasonably close to campus available to graduate students,” Ortiz said.

“Basically MIT is spending about $90,000 a month to rent empty apartments,” said Graduate Student Council President Luis A. Ortiz G.

“I’m not sure why it’s happening. There is some hesitance to the rent at the rate that would be available for a grad student salary,” Ortiz said. “We’ve been trying to convince them to make [the apartments] available at an affordable rate.”

Agreement up for re-negotiation

“At a time when we desperately needed” to find some housing options for graduate students, “this was an excellent opportunity,” said Dean of Graduate Students Isaac M. Colbert.

“It was in MIT’s interest to moderate the increases in rent” at Worthington, Colbert said; “however, the process by which that moderation would occur wasn’t firmly agreed to” between MIT and the Worthington management.

“Now we’ve been in a situation where the rents are viewed as too high by the population that we thought this would have provided some extra housing for, and we are in a position where we have a certain commitment” to the landlord, Bufferd said. “That’s an obviously untenable situation.”

Another problem for graduate student tenants “was the price of the rent and the other was the length of the lease,” Colbert said. The twelve-month lease with no option to sublet is a potential problem for students who graduate early. “Students didn’t look at what they were signing.”

Future of Worthington agreement

“We wanted the ability to have a number of units for an number of years,” Bufferd said. “We weren’t trying to solve a one year problem. We were trying to solve a multiple year problem.”

“MIT’s point of view is to maximize availability” of housing, Bufferd said.

To that end the MIT Treasurer’s Office is exploring alternatives to the current relationship with Worthington, “one of which is to terminate the arrangement,” Bufferd said.

Other options include continuing to subsidize the empty Worthington apartments to MIT graduate students at a price comparable to Tang or Ashdown, at least until negotiations with Worthington are complete. “At least we won’t have the appearance of our money being wasted,” Colbert said.

The Treasurer’s Office could also rent the units to other MIT affiliates who can afford the current rent. It could also rent to non-MIT affiliates.

“It’s a possibility” that MIT will rent the empty Worthington units to the public, as not necessarily at the 90 percent rate, Bufferd said. Therefore, it’s possible for MIT to raise money by renting its Worthington apartments to the public.