Cable Positive Homeless?

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It's been only six months since Steve Villano, Cable Positive's new head, has come on board, impressively continuing the group's noble mission of battling HIV and AIDS in the workplace. But Villano has hit his first major impasse.

The clock is ticking for Cable Positive and its six-member staff, because E! Entertainment Television-which has generously housed the nonprofit organization in its New York offices for the past two years-will need the space back at the end of the year for its own staffers from Style.

So far, no other cable company has stepped up to offer space to Cable Positive, although the group's board, comprised mostly of cable-company members, prefers that the organization remains housed, as it always has been, in member-donated digs.

In the past, Home Box Office, and later, Showtime, had made room for Cable Positive. Villano and the board prefer that arrangement, because Cable Positive can spend its limited resources on the cause rather than on making some rich New York landlord even richer.

At present, overly inflated commercial New York real estate in less desirable areas (like where I work, for example) can command anywhere from $34 to $50 per square foot.

With an operating budget of $1.5 million, about 80 percent of which comes from its annual fundraising dinner, Cable Positive would have to shell out at bare minimum, $100,000 a year in rent alone. That's money that could, and should, be earmarked to fight AIDS-the disease that has robbed all of us of people we knew and worked with.

This week, Villano will meet with Time Warner Inc. to explore some possibilities. He's also waiting to hear from Lifetime Television. Villano, who hails from the health-care industry, has knocked on many doors, but so far to no avail.

For example, he said that Cablevision Systems Corp. did a thorough study of its real estate options in New York, but came up empty handed.

Cablevision, however, said that it could help by donating computer equipment from its The Wiz stores. But Villano doesn't want to take the computers until he has somewhere to put them.

Others are chipping in where they can. Showtime, for example, helps foot the bill for Cable Positive PSAs for World AIDS Day. And HBO has agreed this holiday season to add Cable Positive to the list of charities, like the United Way, so employees can make individual contributions. On top of that HBO does all the prints for Cable Positive educational materials, pro bono.

Now Villano is exploring Plan B. That is to talk with other nonprofit health organizations, like the American Foundation for AIDS Research, about the possibility of sharing facilities.

Here's what Cable Positive is looking for: 2,500 square feet in Manhattan with room for six computer work stations and "a willingness on the part of our new landlord to work out an arrangement on copying costs, phone lines, cable hookup, postage, etc.," said Villano.

When I asked Villano why he needs to much space-after all, 2,500 square feet is the size of a family home-he reminded me of the myriad of educational materials that Cable Positive distributes and needs to store.

Indeed, Cable Positive and its work have mushroomed.. Today, the organization administers an AIDS-in-the-workplace program, which about 5,000 industry figures attended this year. It also administers grants, such as the $600,000 sum left by former Showtime chieftain Tony Cox.

Cable Positive also administers employee assistance programs, proceeds from which help industry employees who are personally afflicted or whose family members have the disease. Villano said he's never seen such a plan in any other industry, and he applauds it.

Villano is doing his part. He's already saved Cable Positive $50,000 by drawing up a new strategic plan, rather than hiring an outside consultant, as was done in the past.

And part of Cable Positive's new strategic plan is to diversify its funding sources, so that it is not so dependent on proceeds from the annual dinner.

Given the reality of the New York real estate market, maybe the real solution is for the honoree of this year's Cable Positive award-an honor bestowed upon an individual who has made a difference in tackling AIDS in the workplace-to simply donate the $100,000 the organization needs for rent, so Villano can spend his time fighting the disease instead of New York landlords.

After all, $100,000 is a mere pittance for most cable companies today.

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