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Editorial -- MIT Should Accept New CASPAR Offer

Over the last two weeks the Cambridge City Council and MIT have exchanged proposals to find a permanent shelter for homeless alcoholics and drug addicts. After city officials' latest offer, the two appear close to reaching an agreement and ending the Cambridge and Somerville Program for Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation's 19-year search for a permanent shelter.

The various proposals discussed over the last few months have followed two central ideas: MIT would finance the construction of a permanent shelter and Cambridge would reimburse the Institute by giving it four city streets that lie within the campus.

This general formulation has obvious advantages for both parties. The most important issue here is that CASPAR find a permanent home: it provides the community with a valuable service, but needs a permanent facility to replace the three ramshackle trailers it currently operates out of. MIT's offer is a real boon to the city, because it provides funding that would be hard to come by otherwise. Giving MIT four streets -- all of Carleton and Hayward Streets, a section of Amherst Street, and some sidewalks on Vassar Street -- seems like a good idea, too. MIT will pay to improve and maintain the streets and sidewalks, which are currently low on Cambridge's list of priorities.

The previous proposals have come under fire for a variety of reasons. Residents were angry about the Institute's initial proposal to build the CASPAR shelter at 380 Green St. in Central Square. The City Council committee working to find an alternate location has run into similar problems with other sites. Residents also expressed the belief that MIT's real goal was moving CASPAR from it's current location on Institute property at 240 Albany St. in an effort to improve the value of MIT's nearby University Park development complex.

The notion of relinquishing control of city streets had problems of its own. Several city councilors and Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves are strongly opposed to giving away streets forever -- which seems to be a very reasonable concern. Many city residents have a less rational fear that MIT plans take over all the land between the river and Central Square, and that giving MIT four streets just helps the Institute's secret plans.

The City Council and the Institute were at an impasse at the end of January, when the council discussed MIT's offer to build at Green Street. Reeves, in particular, interrupted the proceedings on more than one occasion to direct angry tirades against MIT.

MIT silenced many residents concerns last Monday when it offered to build a new shelter at the current Albany Street location and lease the site to the city. The offer addressed resident's concerns about the shelter's location and rendered baseless allegations that MIT only wanted to move the shelter away from University Park.

MIT's offer is a good one. It is particularly generous in light of the fact that the Institute's future plans include building dormitories on Albany Street and the adjacent Vassar Street.

The only issue that remained after that offer was how to reimburse MIT. The counteroffer of the city's CASPAR committee -- selling MIT one street and leasing it the other three -- provides the missing link in what seems to be an excellent compromise. MIT plans to offer the city a 20-year lease on the CASPAR shelter and the city would reciprocate by leasing the streets for the same time. As a result, both groups retain long-term control over their properties, but CASPAR gets a permanent home.

Two things need to happen in the near future: the City Council needs to vote to officially endorse the offer of its CASPAR committee and MIT needs to accept the offer. The compromise on the table accomplishes two things. It allows MIT to move ahead with its plans for the streets in question, while the city retains long term control over them. And the most important concern is addressed: CASPAR will finally have a permanent home.