Cambridge Neighborhood Apartment Housing Services, Inc. (CNAHS) was founded in 1983 as a partnership of tenants, property owners, lenders, and City officials to reverse the trends of disinvestment in multi-family housing in Cambridge. In the late 1980s it affiliated with Homeowner’s Rehab, Inc., an existing non-profit housing development corporation to share resources. Rent Control had been instituted in Cambridge in 1970 and although it served its main purpose well of keeping rents below market, it produced an unintended consequence of disinvestment in multi-family properties. This was compounded by local banks’ uncertainty with underwriting loans within the Rent Control regulatory environment. Given that the vast majority of the housing stock was over 60 years old, disinvestment was beginning to result in deteriorating conditions in the housing stock.
CNAHS’s strategy was to promote reinvestment in rent-controlled housing by working with owners, tenants, lenders, and City officials to form a partnership on each project that would include the interests of all parties and result in an outcome that met their needs. Owners and tenants pledged their cooperation to work together to increase rents in order to pay for capital improvements and to keep rents affordable; the City pledged a special Rent Control regulation, second mortgage loan financing, and operating support; the banks pledged first mortgage construction financing and permanent loan financing. The program was very well received and met all its objectives. Although this program changed after Rent Control was terminated, it continues to be a viable program for private owners who want to renovate their properties and still keep rents affordable.
By the late 1980s, CNAHS realized that although it was meeting its goals, there was still a systemic problem within Rent Control in that many owners were not renting their units to lower income families. CNAHS decided that it could best address this issue by joining forces with its affiliate, Homeowner’s Rehab, Inc. to be a developer/owner and long-term operator of affordable housing. The effort started with the development of a 56-unit property at Ware Street in 1988 and was followed by the development of many high-profile projects including the Swartz Properties, Auburn Court, 808–812 Memorial Drive, the Harvard Portfolio, the Bedrick Properties, Trolley Square, Inman Square Apartments, Putnam Green, and most recently Chapman Arms. With Chapman Arms, this portfolio surpasses 1,100 units of housing in Cambridge.