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City Counters CASPAR Plan

By Sarah Y. Keightley
News Editor

MIT officials and the city of Cambridge moved a step closer to resolving the future of a rehabilitation shelter for homeless alcoholics and drug addicts near Central Square last week.

Cambridge officials made a counterproposal to MIT's recent offer to provide a permanent shelter for the Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcoholic Rehabilitation at its current location on Institute property last week.

Instead of giving MIT four on-campus city streets in exchange for the building, city officials proposed giving MIT one street and leasing the other three streets.

Last Tuesday, the city's negotiating team on CASPAR sent a letter to President Charles M. Vest thanking him for MIT's current offer. In the letter, the negotiating team also supported a proposal to sell the section of Amherst Street to MIT, and to lease Carleton Street, Hayward Street, and the sidewalks of Vassar Street west of Massachusetts Avenue for 20 years, on a renewable contract.

"We're getting close to the point of having reasonable discussions and seeing we can wrap this up," explained Councilor Jonathan S. Myers, who heads a nine-member city committee examining the CASPAR problem.

Because of MIT's latest offer and the counterproposal, a significant amount of progress has been made, he noted.

"The intention of the negotiating team is, that for all practical purposes, the use of the streets under leasing will be equivalent to the ownership of said streets," the letter said.

Street sale stirs trouble

One reason MIT's original proposal was attacked was because it asked for public streets in return for funding the CASPAR shelter. "I profoundly disfavor this notion of selling streets," said Cambridge Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves at a city council meeting on Jan. 25.

With MIT's new offer, the Institute would keep ownership of the building, leasing it to CASPAR for $1 a year for 20 years, with an option to renew. In the original proposal, the city would retain ownership of the building.

MIT would spend $1.8 to $2 million to construct the building.

The Institute made its new offer last Monday after residents and several members of the city council strongly opposed MIT's original offer to renovate a building in Central Square for a permanent CASPAR site.

The CASPAR shelter has been looking for a permanent location for 19 years. In MIT's new proposal, the Institute offered to build a permanent shelter at 240 Albany St., a site owned by MIT. The shelter has been in temporary trailers there since 1979.

Myers emphasized that the negotiating committee's endorsement is a proposal, not an offer. Nothing is definite "until something is voted on by the council," he said.

The proposal was made after a consensus of the city's negotiating committee. There are three council members on the committee. Myers is chair of the group, which was appointed by the mayor.

No response from MIT

City officials are unsure of MIT's response to the proposal, or if MIT is waiting for a more definite offer. MIT officials could not be contacted yesterday.

"We have not had an official response [from MIT] to date," Myers said. Reeves has been in touch with Vest, he said.

"There are certain things that need to be resolved," said Corinna E. Lathan G, who has been involved in working to help find a permanent site for the CASPAR shelter. "The city's counteroffer takes care of one of those. I had a problem with giving streets to MIT while only leasing the site to CASPAR."

"The premise of [MIT's] first offer was it's an exchange value-for-value," Lathan said. "In general, the reaction to leasing the streets hasn't been good -- it's not a value-for-value exchange -- but value is a subjective thing," she added.

Christopher S. Stipp G, another student who was active in finding a permanent site for the CASPAR shelter through the now-defunct student group, Homelessness Initiative, said he could see both MIT and Cambridge's points of view.

Cambridge is reluctant to give MIT more land; MIT wants the streets because "we're already using them, and we just want to fix them up," he said. But "it's fair to not give all four streets to MIT, when MIT could have the option of rescinding the lease," Stipp added. He said he understands why the city does not want to "give up all four streets unconditionally" right now.

Close to a solution

Myers said that the city and MIT have moved closer to negotiating a final solution. Because of MIT's latest offer and the counterproposal, a significant amount of progress has been made, he said.

"The fact that MIT has made this land available is unbelievable -- it is shocking in a good way," Lathan said. "This offer that MIT made is what people have been working for for 15 years. We've really reached the crucial moment."

"The regrettable thing ... [is] the shelter is being used as a political football," Stipp said. But he did add that MIT's new offer has the "highest probability of anything so far of leading to a productive solution."

Myers said that the March 1 council meeting would be a "plausible date" for the council to vote on MIT's current offer and the negotiating team's counterproposal. Still, he did not want to guarantee anything since there are "remaining issues" to work out.

These remaining issues include the two other items in the proposal.

The proposal asks that "the members of the Committee shall commit to working expeditiously in partnership with MIT on matters currently pending in the City Council," according to the letter.

For the third point on the proposal, the committee recommended that "additional CASPAR health services will be funded by the City," the letter stated.

Myers said the committee proposed "additional funding for CASPAR so we can work actively to make this site a success." This way, the city can "move to the actual siting of CASPAR, which is what we to see," he said.

"It's approaching the proper compromise," Lathan said. One thing that is not clear is that the building is being leased to CASPAR instead of the city, she said. "What would happen if the emergency shelter were to fold? ... Would CASPAR be able to hold on to the lease?"

Students took action

During the 1990-1991 school year, the campus group Homelessness Initiative, "started a campaign on campus to gain awareness about the shelter," according to Stipp. Members circulated a petition asking MIT to offer CASPAR a lease and to build a permanent building." This petition was presented to Vest, and later there was a letter-writing campaign, Stipp added.

Then MIT and the city began negotiations.

Stipp said he is uncertain to what extent Homelessness Initiative's efforts helped start these negotiations. He thinks "it helped because it made the MIT administration more aware that people on campus cared and wanted to see MIT be a good neighbor."

"I like to think maybe we helped speed things up a little bit," he added.

"According to CASPAR, it was our pressure on MIT that brought MIT to the negotiating table," Lathan said. From 1987 to 1990, Massachusetts offered CASPAR a $2.5 million grant to build a shelter if they could find a site. Unfortunately, CASPAR could not find a site during this time period, MIT took no action, and the state retracted its offer, she said.

It was at the end of that time that the Homelessness Initiative put pressure on MIT, Lathan continued. "We were honored at a CASPAR banquet -- we claimed it as a victory," she said.

For the petition, 1500 signatures were gathered, Lathan said. Then, the Homelessness Initiative gave a report to the MIT administration in April 1991. The report pointed out that "the only option that's going to work is giving [CASPAR] the 240 Albany St. location," Lathan said.

"It's ironic because we presented a position paper that said eventually what [MIT] will have to do is let the shelter stay on the site because of the politics of the city," Stipp said.

He added, "It worked out that the offer they made was similar to the one we were suggesting."

Lathan hopes that MIT will make a commitment to the shelter and the problem of homelessness. "I'd like to see a commitment of MIT's resources," she said.

"Our primary concern all along was that the shelter have a permanent place," Stipp said. This would help CASPAR serve their clients better, he added.