Tenants, Landlords Battle Over City's Rental Rates

Over 200 Cambridge tenants and landlords gathered at a Cambridge Rent Control Board (CRCB) meeting last night to argue over possible changes in rental rates.

Over a dozen Cambridge residents delivered brief speeches urging the board members to take action alleviating the "intolerable situation."

Broke and Crumbling

The tenants said a rent increase would be the equivalent of "taking food from our mouths," and the landlords said they "will go broke and the city will crumble," without an increase.

The tenants said recent property tax rebates increased landlords' profits and some portion of the tax relief should pass on to them.


Landlords said inflation of maintenance and repair costs, payroll expenses and utility rates has slashed profits and threatens to drive them out of business.

"It comes down to which side you are on," Christina Rendueles, a speaker belonging to the tenant union Hard Times, said. "Are the landlords closing off rooms because they can't pay the bill? Are they putting up plastic to keep the drafts out? No, they can afford to think about new cars and vacations in the Bahamas."

James Kurker, a property owner in Cambridge, said, "This is a crisis. Nobody likes it. We're [the landlords] being attacked from all sides. I guess most of you don't believe in free enterprise and democracy?"

Kurker said he works 80 hours a week and that if the tenants would go out and get a job they "could affort a suit just like mine."

Robert Jones, a Cambridge landlord and president of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce said that if the CRCB had more effective rent laws, less money would be wasted on bureaucracy and expensive legal suits and more funds would be available for actual housing benefits.

Tess Ewing, speaking for the Chicarie tenants, said, "We have to battle rats and roaches and backed-up plumbing and ceilings that are falling down. We are poor working people and we just can't survive another increase."

John J. Campbell, a Cambridge realtor and former member of the board, said the CRCB must be realistic in solving the problem and should recognize that landowners who don't make enough profit won't make necessary repairs or maintain the buildings they rent, harming the tenants.

Other speakers who were frequently interrupted by either applause or derisive remarks, presented equally divergent viewpoints.

Pat Hammond, a member of the Cambridge Tenants' Organizing Committee urged an overthrow of "our capitalist system," while Louis Solano, a member of the Committee of Elders of Cambridge, told the tenants they should "put themselves in the landlords' shoes."

Several speakers translated their remarks for the Portuguese and Spanish-speaking residents at the meeting.

The board will meet next on January 5 at 678 Mass Ave at 6 p.m. for the final vote on rental rates