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Historical Note

Scope and Content Note


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Title:Cambridge Eviction Free Zone records
Dates:1972–2007 (bulk 1988–2007)
Call Number:M170

Historical Note

Founded in 1988, the Cambridge Eviction Free Zone (EFZ) was an independent, tenant–run community organization that worked for social and economic justice in the areas of housing and tenants' rights, rent control, and immigrant voting rights. EFZ addressed issues of affordability and conditions in rental housing. It was founded by a coalition of grassroots organizations, including the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee (CEOC), Area 4 Neighborhood Coalition, Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services, and Cambridge Tenants Union. Sustained by the support of CEOC, EFZ assisted low and moderate income tenants in exercising their rights under state and local laws, including Cambridge's local rent control ordinance. EFZ aided tenants in fighting eviction cases, petitioning the Rent Control Board for rent decreases, and organizing to resist intimidation by landlords.

EFZ worked with many immigrant populations. One of its most significant early victories, a rent strike at 580 Massachusetts Avenue and 1 Coolidge Place, occupied exclusively by immigrants, forced the landlord to make repairs and grant back rent. EFZ's most significant outreach was to the Haitian community, through the Komite Kreyol (Creole Committee), established in 1988, and Fanm Ayisyen An Aksyon (Haitian Women in Action), established in 2000. EFZ also created a Latino Committee in the mid–1990s. In the early 1990s, the Campaign for Immigrant Voting Rights, which sought the right for legal immigrants to vote in local elections, brought EFZ greater notice, leading to increased membership. The Campaign for Immigrant Voting Rights was discontinued in 1994 so that EFZ could focus on the fight against Question 9 (Q9), an anti–rent control measure.

Tenant organizations, spearheaded by EFZ, campaigned for rent control by directly opposing Q9 and by seeking reforms to Cambridge's complicated rent control ordinance. Although Q9 failed in the three communities that had local rent control ordinances (Cambridge, Boston, and Brookline), it narrowly passed statewide, banning rent control throughout Massachusetts in 1994. EFZ's focus then shifted to preserving housing affordability in Cambridge.

Beginning in 1995, EFZ designed the $10 Million Plan to increase Cambridge's stock of permanently affordable housing. Drawing on several previous ideas for funding affordable housing, EFZ proposed a variety of funding sources, including state matching funds for affordable housing creation, local money formerly devoted to the enforcement of rent control, and a new transfer fee on large real estate sales. The City Council passed a compromise plan that implemented the City Manager's more modest spending goals.

Inspired by Harvard University's agreement to limit rent increases for its tenants and sell some formerly controlled units as affordable housing, EFZ launched the Campaign to Save 2000 Homes to create and preserve permanently affordable housing without relying on government support. The Campaign took its name from the approximately 2000 Cambridge households granted extensions of rent control protections on the basis of age, disability, or income. EFZ worked to protect these tenants and others as emergency protections ran out. The Campaign encouraged landlords, particularly those poised to make large profits because of the end of rent control, to sell units or buildings as permanently affordable housing. The Campaign helped tenants set up limited equity cooperatives and courted private developers interested in creating affordable housing. Additionally, the Campaign to Save 2000 Homes put pressure on landlords to retain low and moderate income tenants at rents comparable to the maximums allowed under rent control, and to renew the leases of Section 8 tenants. The Campaign called attention to tenants at risk through the issue of “eviction alerts” to EFZ members and local officials. The Campaign also staged fundraising events, including a concert series, and several demonstrations.

Because of their diverging tactics and missions, CEOC decided in 1998 to withdraw its support from EFZ. CEOC offered EFZ continued assistance during its transition: the CEOC staffer who had been assigned to EFZ, the office within CEOC's headquarters, and a one–time grant to seek new sources of funding, employees, and offices. EFZ became an independent nonprofit organization funded by member contributions, donations, and foundation grants.

EFZ worked with the Local 40 Carpenters' Union to secure a living wage for companies with city contracts in 1998 and 1999. The Cambridge City Council passed the second–highest living wage ordinance in the United States. EFZ also worked to maintain or increase funding for federal and state housing assistance programs such as Section 8 and the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program. Additionally, EFZ pushed the owners of expiring–use buildings to keep those units permanently affordable through measures such as selling to limited equity coops. EFZ advocated for inclusionary zoning and a local condominium conversion ordinance with additional tenant protections. EFZ testified every year that permanently affordable housing should receive maximum funding under the Community Preservation Act.

Throughout 2002, EFZ studied the possibility of a new home rule petition that would bypass Q9's ban on rent control, and in early 2003, EFZ set up the Committee for Cambridge Rent Control (CCRC) to raise money for the ballot question that would be the first step in re–establishing rent control. A similar attempt in 1999 had not gathered enough signatures to appear on the ballot; this time, CCRC's petition cleared that hurdle. Due to low turnout and stringent requirements, however, the rent control ballot initiative did not pass.

In May of 2004, EFZ members formed a Section 8 Action Committee to advocate for the Section 8 program and the tenants it assisted. The committee offered informational meetings to its constituents, including a writing workshop to Section 8 tenants who wanted to communicate more effectively with their elected officials, and met with other groups working on similar issues. EFZ closed its office in December 2007 after failing to secure foundation grants to support its activities.
1988Cambridge Eviction Free Zone (EFZ) founded as a project of Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee and other grassroots organizations.
ca. 1988–1990Komite Kreyol established to address the specific needs of Haitian tenants in Cambridge.
1990–1991Rent strike at 580 Massachusetts Avenue and 1 Coolidge Place forces landlord Stu–Lin to make repairs and grant tenants 15 months' rent.
1990EFZ helps four tenants and their families take over neglected and illegally vacant building at 292–298 Broadway.
1992–1994Campaign for Immigrant Voting Rights seeks the right of legal immigrants to vote in local elections.
1994EFZ works against the passage of Question 9. Question 9 ends rent control in Massachusetts.
1995January: First issue of EFZ's Community Voice newspaper outlines Housing Justice Program.$10 Million Plan seeks to increase funding for affordable housing in Cambridge to ten million dollars per year, using city income directly related to the end of rent control.April 1: “Our Homes Are No Joke” rally protests cuts in federal housing programs.
ca. 1996Latino Committee established to address the needs of Latino tenants in Cambridge.
1996Campaign to Save 2000 Homes begins to work for permanently affordable housing and long–term rental agreements with landlords, and to assist tenants in immediate danger of eviction.September: Town Meeting outlining EFZ's legislative program draws 200 people.
1997January–March: Series of 8 “Concerts for Housing Justice” raises $7000 for the Campaign to Save 2000 Homes.March 17: “Tent–in” on City Hall lawn. July 26: Caravan for Housing Justice demonstrates at 6 sites throughout Cambridge and suburban areas.December 6: Scrooge Rally distributes flyers and garners press coverage.
1998CEOC separates from EFZ.
1998–1999Along with Local 40 Carpenters' Union, Campaign for a Living Wage secures ordinance passing the second–highest living wage in the United States.
1999Public forum on new rent control legislation held. September: “Ten Most Unwanted Landlords” rally and City Council candidates' forum held.
1999–2003Campaign for Immigrant Voting Rights is revived.
2000Haitian Women in Action / Fanm Ayisyen An Aksyon founded as a project of EFZ.
2002EFZ works against Ron Unz's anti–bilingual education ballot initiative.
2003EFZ sets up Committee for Cambridge Rent Control; ballot question to re–establish rent control fails.
2004March to Abolish Poverty visits EFZ offices. EFZ establishes Section 8 Action Committee.

Dickson, Harvey. “Squatters move into Cambridge apartments.” Boston Herald, July 2, 1990.

Gaulkin, Zachary. “Taking action on housing: City inspects two buildings after Haitian tenants complain.” Cambridge Sun, July 12, 1990.

Hall, Nancy. “The 2000 Homes Campaign: Continuing the Fight for Housing Justice.” EFZ Community Voice, Summer, 1998.

Hall, Nancy. “After twenty years, Eviction Free Zone closes the office.” The Bridge, March, 2008.

M170, Box 11, Folder 36, “Events and Decisions of the Campaign to Save 2000 Cambridge Homes.”

M170, Box 1, Folder 29, “Eviction Free Zone First Public Meeting flyer.”

M170, Box 6, Folder 25, “Housing Justice Program (HJP).”

M170, Box 1, Folder 31sar, “Letter to EFZ members and supporters.”

Thibault, Constance. “Living in the Eviction–Free Zone (EFZ).” The Tenant Independent, Spring, 1990.