Housing Complex

Peaceoholics at War: Nonprofit Finds Dealing With At-risk Youths a Lot Easier Than Wrangling With Neighbors

Moten Lava: ”We have stopped killings in your community,” Peaceoholics co-founder tells NIMBY neighbors. (Darrow Montgomery)

Moten Lava: ”We have stopped killings in your community,” Peaceoholics co-founder tells NIMBY neighbors. (Darrow Montgomery)

Jauhar Abraham proudly surveys the ongoing construction at 1300 Congress St. SE last Friday afternoon, standing back to avoid clouds of dust.

“It’s gonna be nice,” he says—all-wood floors, ceramic tiling, private bathrooms. “Not the way all these projects are set up.”

The crew performing the renovations looks somewhat different from the one working on developer William C. Smith’s apartment project across the street. For one thing, the workers are primarily young black males plucked from the neighborhood—not white or Latino, like Smith’s employees. For another, many of them have criminal records, requiring a signoff from their parole officers before getting the job.

“In all reality, you have a lot of companies who won’t hire these guys,” says contractor Love Mitchell, chatting on the sidewalk.

The building, a 13-unit transitional living facility for at-risk youth, is a project of the Peaceoholics, a nonprofit group that has received millions of dollars in city funding to mediate violent conflict fueled by gangs and drugs. With the help of a loan from the Department of Housing and Community Development, the organization purchased the formerly abandoned structure last May for $400,000, and are spending another million to get it ready for occupancy by September. Some of the same youths now working on the renovation may wind up living in the complex themselves.

Abraham, the nonprofit’s chief executive officer, views the endeavor as an extension of the American dream.

“The founding fathers of our country are ex-offenders,” he says. “They came for a new life. The investment they came here and made is now the greatest nation in the world.”

The neighbors see the project a bit differently.

“I’m thinking that they’re just little young thugs,” says Congress Street resident Brian Townes, standing on the corner and regarding the building on the previous weekend. “Do they really have these kids on lockdown? One person comes out of here and breaks into someone’s house, someone walks up to me and stabs me in the back, that’s it.”

Townes is at the forefront of a new wave of white-collar professionals to populate Congress Heights. He works for the Department of Homeland Security, which will bring 14,000 staffers to the neighborhood as its new headquarters opens at the St. Elizabeths campus over the next six years. Townes bought a house in foreclosure for $110,000, totally renovated, and settled right in. He was horrified to hear about the Peaceoholics’ project.

“This has the potential to be a great neighborhood, and it just makes me sad that they want to dump all these unwanted people in here,” he says. “For me, it’s not what I envisioned for my neighborhood.”

Townes and some condo owners from the building next door are now clamoring to make it go away.

Mediating settlements between beefing youths may be the Peaceoholics’ forte. But reaching out to the adults in the community hasn’t gone so smoothly.

Perhaps the first misstep came in not giving the customary head’s up to Sandra “SS” Seegars, chair of the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission. (W.C. Smith did.) Seegars found out soon enough and called a meeting last February at a local IHOP with neighbors and the Peaceoholics’ leadership to discuss their plans for the facility. The neighbors were neither pleased at what they heard nor reassured by Abraham’s entourage.

“They brought this group of guys who showed up and didn’t introduce themselves,” recalled Tonette Sivells, a resident of the condo building next door. “They just sat at a back table and glared at us. It was a little intimidating, to be honest.”

Hackles raised, the neighbors started doing research. They discovered that there were at least two other social service agencies less than a block away—a House of Ruth for victims of domestic violence, and transitional housing for people with substance-abuse issues. Why does that matter?

According to D.C. regulations, for their zoning category, “community-based residential facilities” may not be constructed within 500 feet of each other without a variance.

Neighbors began appealing to city officials, from the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to the office of Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry. The response was underwhelming.

Barry’s office canceled a meeting with the group and issued a statement later in firm support of the Peaceoholics’ project. In an interview with Housing Complex, Barry himself called the neighbors “selfish” for opposing the facility, saying they don’t represent the will of Ward 8.

The political dynamics at play are fairly clear. Seegars was a fervent Barry supporter in the 1980s but turned on him when he ran for mayor again soon after being released from prison. She led the movement to recall him in 1997 and ran against him for council in 2004 and 2008. The Peaceoholics were backed by the Fenty administration; Seegars is not a fan of the mayor.

Last Tuesday, relations deteriorated further. With some 20 young people in tow, Abraham came to present at Seegars’ ANC meeting, describing his plan to a group that included both supporters and neighbors who are adamantly opposed.

Peaceoholics co-founder Ron Moten started out on the sidelines. But soon, ANC commissioner Melvin Sims began pressing the group about its financial dealings (the group came under scrutiny from the city council last year for questionable use of funds and this year lost all of its earmarks). That was too much for Moten, who put down the child sitting on his lap and marched up to the dais.

“Are you serious?” he asked incredulously. “You’re a commissioner, and you would sit here before the public and lie to them? Are you on drugs? You gotta be on drugs.”

Amid shouting and bangs from Seegars’ gavel, Moten went on: “First of all, let me explain something to you. We stopped killings in your community. We’re the only organization that has the balls to stand up and hold criminals accountable and give them opportunity. Nobody else in this city would stand up on the ground that we stand on and hold people accountable, because they don’t believe in citizenship. Excuse me for being passionate, but sometimes it’s hard to be normal when people say that.”

The meeting soon dissolved into shouting matches between irate neighbors and Peaceoholics partisans. “I’m angry now! I’m angry!” blurted one youth. “These are the only men who ever helped me!”

Seegars contends that had the Peaceoholics come to the ANC first, she could have arranged a more amicable introduction to the community.

Abraham takes that comment as a thinly veiled extortion attempt. “If I had given Sandra the money, she would have told them the truth about this,” he tells Housing Complex. “That’s what they want when they said, ‘You didn’t come see us.’”

Seegars denies any such expectation. “They cannot pay me off,” she says. “I cannot be bribed.”

On Friday, the ANC and the neighbors convened yet another meeting on the Peaceoholics’ plans at DHCD headquarters in downtown Anacostia. Abraham—who is not drawing a salary this year, after making six figures in more flush times—rolled up in a sleek Chevy sedan chauffeured by a young man in a backward cap and polo.

In the conference room, Abraham, DHCD Director Leila Edmonds, and other city officials sat on one end of the table; ANC commissioners and neighbors on the other. A two-person police detail that Seegars had requested sat outside, looking bored.
Over the next two hours of testy discussion, the neighbors were told that it hadn’t yet been decided where the occupants were going to come from and that it hadn’t been determined whether the facility complied with zoning regulations—but that it was all part of a larger plan to provide supportive housing for at-risk youth, and the condo owners should quit complaining.

“You have to step back and look at the broader picture of what the District of Columbia’s housing needs are and what we focus on,“ Edmonds said, barely containing her impatience. “Our concern is really revitalizing the community for all the broad range of populations that we need to serve.”

That didn’t go over so well.

“I support the Peaceoholics, but nobody has considered me,” said Ayanna Henderson, who bought her condo, located next door to the Peaceoholics project, back in 2007. “If they go along with this project, I can’t move, I can’t just get up and leave. If I don’t feel comfortable, I’m stuck. I’m not a renter, I can’t walk away from my mortgage. I purchased my condo—an inexpensive condo, because if I were rich, I wouldn’t have bought in Congress Heights.”

On Tuesday, the battle shifted to D.C. Superior Court, where the Peaceoholics filed a lawsuit accusing Seegars of slander. In a spate of emails to city officials last week, Seegars alleged that Peaceoholics’ partisans had become physically violent toward the project’s critics.

Seegars suggests she’s the one who should be suing, namely over the bribery accusation. In an e-mail Monday to the Peaceoholics—with both city and federal officials CC’d—she wrote: “I will not cease or desist revealing your poor conduct as you attempt to receive public funding for self-gratification under the umbrella of saving the world from itself.”

Comments

  1. #1

    The bottom line here is that the residents of Congress Heights deserve the same respect with regards to the proper notice and supporting documentation presented to them as any other neighborhood in this city. We were denied that - and only found out a month ago when the construction began.

    We are not unsympathetic to the Peaceoholics or to the people they help - let that be clear. However, what we take issue with is ducking around the protocols in place for community notification, not to mention piling such facilities on top of each other on the same block by the city that also wrote the law that states that you cannot do that.

    The DCHD is giving lots of money to the Peaceoholics and asking the neighbors to deal with it. We have not seen a proposal by the Peaceoholics, we simply don't know anything about them PERIOD. We have no details whatsoever beyond they will be at risk, low-income, recommended by DCYS. To my knowledge there has been no research done to determine if their programs work. As it stands we have only our imagination to wonder what kind of neighbors the Peaceoholics will be.

    At the risk of sounding uncaring - is that too much to ask?

  2. #2

    Personally I think it is insulting and frankly inaccurate to describe these concerned neighbors as NIMBYs (not in my backyard). Considering that these neighbors already have 3 or 4 of these group homes/shelters on their block - across the street from a public housing complex I think they have proven that their yard is cluttered - too cluttered in fact to add another "special needs" property within 500 feet of each other - a direct violation of DC's Title 11 law.

    Not NIMBY neighbors - concerned (and rightly so) neighbors.

    Of all the vacant (and in better condition) properties in Congress Heights, Washington, Highlands, Bellevue, Anacostia, Barry Farmm...in all of Ward 8 (assuming it had to be in Ward 8 and it didn't have to) why this property? Why this property that is already on the block with 3 or 4 other "special needs" housing.

    The neighborhood is saturated. All the residents are asking for is the information they should have had at the begining of this project, long before 1300 Congress St was purchased so it could have been relocated to a block not alreay full of group homes.

    Seems like a reasonable request to me.

  3. #3

    And another thing. According to everything that was presented by DHCD the Peaceoholics recieved this 5 million dollar grant/loan in a no-bid process. Why isn't anyone talking about that?

  4. #4

    I still have no idea what Peaceaholics do. They claim that they've squashed beefs, but have no data to show it. Then they use cyclical logic to justify the lack of data- if they are no problems in a troubled area for some time, they claim credit and say that their efforts are working. However, if there is a crime, like the mass shooting a few weeks back, they then come in and claim that if they were there, this wouldn't have happened. They are using these kids to line their pockets and frankly, they are worst than most of these drug dealers out there because of their sense of entitlement. The City owes them something. If Moten or Abraham really cared about these kids, they would have tried to do things legitimately like these other social services providers.
    The disrespect they show in every single setting is a horrible example to give the angry and neglected youths they claim to serve. This ANC meeting was a perfect example of this.

  5. #5

    This same story places out with Peacoholics again and again. It's not their mission that disturbs people, its their lack of transparency and accountability, and their confrontational approach when asked legitimate questions.

  6. #6

    I have thought and thought about how to respond to this article. Questions still swirling about how is this a NIMBY issue. How can DC Government has given about $5M to an organization without any clear direction, that submits neither grant reports nor statistical data of proven results, etc. How can DC Government refuse to answer the questions regarding violating Title 11 zoning violation? Why are gangsters allowed to get Government funds? How can tires be slashed and opposing supporters assaulted all in the name of Peace? How Mr. Abraham make light of such crimes when his passion is Peace? How can Ms. DePillis do an article without researching claims made by the Peaceoholics? Then I think why ask why? Instead I am going to better my situation.

    Congress Heights resident in search of BFF, I am looking for the following credentials:
    1. Bald
    2. Light skinned black male
    3. Currently serving in the highest leadership role in DC Government
    4. Pays for friends ($5M)
    5. Doesn’t give a damn about certain members of the city

    Please forward all replies soonest.

  7. #7
  8. #8

    Why is a person who works at Homeland security calling these young men "little young thugs". I am outraged by that comment. We do not need people passing judgement on young people working hard to better themselves. Peaceoholics is an outstanding organization and has done much with helping to stop the violence among young people in Washington, DC. I do not understand the resentment and attacks on this group. And by the way The advocate your reporting is horrible. Please find a new profession. You started out well but now it seems you are just another biased reporter. *sheesh.

  9. #9

    I will take "horrible" and "biased" over "deaf, dumb and blind" anyday.

    :)

  10. #10

    for the record, I never said 'little young thugs', nor did I use the words 'dump unwanted people' Its apparent that the writer is trying to stir up the controversy. In doing so, she made me sound ruthless and uncaring - and I don't appreciate that.

  11. #11

    Brian- I would say it for you man. Peaceholics recruits thugs and uses them to benefit Moten and Abraham. The philosophy of this group isn't about responsibility or accountability for one's actions, but rather about how to be a smooth hustler. They're teaching these kids that hustling have different avenues and not only in the drug trade. I wonder if Connally has ever been in a room with Moten and his "kids". In a heartbeat, one of these little thuggers would jump on you and what would Moten do- it's their passion, I can't stop it. He's not doing any real work. He's leeching off a corrupt system- he's hustling.

  12. #12

    Ah yes, activism ala "Reverend" Al Sharpton. Seen this kind of thing before in NYC. Extortion / intimidation and cries of racism if anyone objects. The sad thing is no one has the guts to get in Moten's grill on the City Council. Barry, of course, is useless, as he understands this MO all too well.

  13. #13

    A lot of the residents hit the nail right on the head, ex-convict Moton claims a lot of credit for stopping so call beefs and other neighborhood BS by knuckle head high school drop outs, but offer no evidence or statistics just slick hustle talk which have bam boozle our one turn Mayor. Moton and his band of ex-convicts have made a nice living with no accountability and intimidation when question, just like this BS suit against an elected ANC Commissioner who dare to ask legimate questions, it shows their real concerns is not about the community its all about lining his pocket with money. I think it is high time they provide proff of their worth to the community and specifically their finances and salary. Yes his main boy do travel with pants hanging backward hat wearing baby thugs, yes I said too.

  14. #14

    I have a question, is the 'Peaceoholica' started and funded by one of the Barry grants from the past? If the answer to that is YES then I wounder what is Barry's cut!

  15. #15

    I'm curious as to why no one in DC government finds it the least bit troubling that, according to guidestar.org, Mr. Moton's group has not filed an IRS 990, required annually by all 501(c)(3)'s, since FY 2007.

  16. You still don't get it
    #16

    @ Conally You don't seem to get it. Did you attend any of the items? did you listen to the residents who pay the freakin tax dollars that help provide the grant money to this organization? we are not against the Peaceoholics and what they claim to stand for (I say claim because I don't have any evidence that shows what they have done, but if you do, please forward to us all). We live in a low income neighborhood already. There are already 3 shelters.facilities/programs on our block. Mr. Moten and Mr Abraham claim to be teaching the boys about the value of property, yet they cannot grasp that concept that if in fact these boys were to become homeowners on this block, they too will face issues of property value. We are concerned about the value of our investment simply put. This facility can easily go down the block to a street not cluttered with facilities. No one is against the organization. Please get that through your head. We are against the location because by placing this facility in that location, they are compromising the ability for the neighbors to make progress with their investment. We have a right to protect our investment. We already have 3 shelters/facilities on our block. It is already in violation of the law. Those were there when we moved there, but we did not know it. Its AGAINST THE LAW!!!!! You are advocating that the Peaceoholics can break the law with no recourse? Is that what you support?

  17. #17

    @You Still Don't Get It.

    Well said! I think you hit the nail on the head. We are expecting young people who despite all of their passion have never owned their own home and may have come from a home where no one owned their own home. Someone on this string said it best. They did the RIGHT things. They worked, saved, did their research and invested in the home and their community by buying their own home - for most of us our first.

    I think it's time someone just came out and said it. This sense of entitlement is doing more harm than good. Folks needs to be ready to step up and out on their own two feet and make it happen for themselves. No one is obligated to help you - definetly not at a cost to themselves.

    There are plenty of programs out here if someone is trying to purchase their own home - I know. I used one to purchase my own home and I be damned if someone would make me feel bad or guilty or expect me to sacrafice my quality of life and property value - that's right I said it- because they didn't do their proper research into the law and common decency.

    Black people are not ignorant.
    Black youth are not stupid.
    We don't need anyone to "save" us
    Everyone is cabable of achieving their dream - if they want it bad enough and are willing to WORK for it.

    Kudos to the neighbors on this block for doing what they have been doing all along - advocating for themselves and a better qaulity of life. No excuses!

  18. #18

    I'm against this organization and everything they do. They only thing they've done are things they only talk about. I can go around in my neighborhood and round up a group of teenagers to come down to the City Council with me to ask for millions of dollars, but I don't because it would immoral and one would think illegal. Everyone who says that they support this organization and what it does is full of shit. You don't really know what they do and are just too chicken-shit to call these crooks out. They are fakes. They organization is a front for self-aggrandizing hustlers.

  19. #19

    PREACH!!!! Adrian Bent-Me

  20. #20

    THOSE BAMAS ARE NERVOUS, THEY ARE PRESSED AND THEY FUCKED UP! THEY THOUGHT THEY COULD TAKE S.E. FOR GRANTED LIKE THEIR BOY FENTY. THOSE PUNKS THOUGHT THEY COULD SLIDE RIGHT IN WHEN NO ONE IS LOOKING. OOPS! PROBLEM IS-THE BAMA IS SO LOUD THEY HEARD HIM COMING FROM A MILE AWAY!

    I BELIEVE THEIR GIG IS UP! THEIR HUSTLE IS OVA! THIS HOUSING THING IS THEIR LAST RESORT. THEY PROBABLY PUSHED ALL THEIR CHIPS TO THE MIDDLE OF THE TABLE ON THIS DEAL AND IF IT DOESNT PRODUCE A PROFIT OR SOME DIVIDENDS THEN THEY ARE OUT NOT ONLY THEIR INVESTMENT (1.4MIL) BUT THE CHANCE OF GETTING MILLIONS FROM SOME GOVT AGENCY SUBSIDIZING THE ENDEAVOR AND NO MEANS TO PAY BACK LOAN.

    THE SEPTEMBER DATE IS CRUCIAL FOR THEM BECAUSE IT COINCIDES WITH THE PRIMARY. THEY WANT TO GET THIS SHIT DONE BEFORE GRAY TAKES OFFICE. ONCE VINNIE TAKE OVA HE GONNA PIMP SLAP THE SHIT OUT OF THE PEACEHOLICS.

    ONE HAS TO WONDER WILL FAGGIE FENTY MAKE CALL TO ZONING BOARD APPOINTEES TO APPROVE VARIANCE OR WILL HE HANG HIS ASS WIPER OUT TO DRY AGAIN? DUMB MOFO'S BETTER LAWYER UP BECAUSE IF PETITION SHOWS UP AT HEARING AGAINST PROJECT THEN IT’S OFF TO COURT.

    HOW IN THE FUCK DID THESE BAMAS QUALIFY FOR A LOAN FROM DCDHCD? DID FENTY PULL ANOTHER SKINNER DEAL WITH THE P’HOLICS AND HOUSING? THIS SHIT DOESN’T PAST THE SMELL TEST.

    WHAT BITCH ASS MOTEN SHOULD BE REHABBIN’ IS HIS GRILL. GOT DAMN! FOR A MUTHA FUCKA THAT TALKS SO DAMN MUCH AT THE VERY LEAST BE PRESENTABLE. THAT MOFO’S GRILL LOOKS LIKE THE BRUCE MONROE DEMO SITE.

  21. #21

    @noodlez: You drove several nails into the board with one hit on those comments! Hard to believe no one in DC government is asking those same questions.

    Wonder if they even have a building permit?

  22. Concerned about youth
    #22

    Wow, it's alot of judgement going on with this article about petty gossip.
    I know alot of people on here state that they like what the Peaceoholics do with the youth, but then some make comments about how they are hustlers and all these silly things.
    The Peaceoholics are taking a different approach to an old social problem, "at-risk" youth. In order to get different results you have to do something different. The Peaceoholics which also have women involved are not perfect as no one in the world is.
    What should get alot of respect is how many killings they've stopped so that it wouldn't wind up right on your steps. If you are looking for numbers of who they have helped, the will let you know.
    The Peaceoholics are always around when people are killed in the community, long after politicians leave. That type of news doesn't make Channel 9 all the time. They are at the community events, do you not understand if it were not for all of the time the Peaceoholics put in, do you not understand you would be living in a serious war zone.
    Sure they can't stop crime completely, but if they were not around you would be ducking bullets all the time as you get on the bus to go to work. I totally get that some folks have some legitimate questions and concerns about zoning laws.
    The best interest is all the residents of DC including "at-risk" youth, who live in Ward 8 why not, figure out a new way to have them be productive and living in their community.
    These youth that folks have given up on are working, working in their own neighborhood helping to construct this building. They are doing what we all do, trying to work hard and take care of our families.
    Do you all understand that this type of work is not popular (activism) anywhere in the world.
    Alot of folks will not even deal with people who come from the street. The Peaceoholics should have been paid even more money, for the work they do.
    Instead of the petty gossip, at least approach them and just talk to them like the proud Americans we all are.
    They are very intelligent and polite and will answer questions as long as people respect their integrity.
    C'mon folks this young guy was just found killed yesterday, Peaceoholics are assisting the community to help grieve and provide support yesterday and now and they will continue to do that.
    We can't keep letting it be "normal" that our kids are killed across America like it's nothing. These kids matter and I know some of you all already know that and volunteer in in other places. That is wonderful if you already volunteer somewhere, I'm just saying let's talk to each other with respect and dignity to help our youth across DC.
    And no I'm not on the Peaceoholics payroll, I've seen their commitment, over and over again, when it's not on the news. Peace and Light

  23. #23

    well I DONT LIKE THIS ORGANIZATION FAR AS IM CONCERNED THEY DONT HELP THE PROBLEM THEY MAKE IT WORSE. ALL THEY DO IS TELL EACH GROUP WHAT THE OTHER GROUP HAS SAID AND THEY STILL WIND UP FIGHTING,STABBING ,OR SHOOTING ONE ANOTHER.AND THE PPL. THAT WORK FOR THIS GROUP ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM TO BE! THIS ORGANIZATION IS NOTHING BUT A FRAUD! AN ORGANIZE GANG FOR REAL!

  24. #24

    There is no accountability with Moten and his group. And Seegars, for all her piss and vinegar, cannot halt this project; it has already been DECIDED that this will be built here at this site.

    To those who bought there, you must not of known the history of the area. It has been 'blighted' for as long as I can remember...you didn't roll thru there unless you knew someone. After the white flight and the riots, this part of town was the 'killing fields'.

    From Alabama/Naylor where the old Sears used to be to the Big Chair down to just before Eastern Market, you have decent working class folks side by side with every type of dysfunctional, derelict, sub-human behaving criminal ever seen. Alot of great folks, for sure, but too many bad ones who bred the same and worse and some 3-4 generations later, you see what you got.

    Now if Moten's group was REALLY helping, then cool. But this is more of that 'poverty pimpin' that takes place because certain folks just cannot manage their own lives. Social Services becomes the 'Momma and Daddy' and 'where's my check' is the rallying cry. All Moten and them do is get in where they fit in and exploit the system...and since they come off as the only people 'doing anything', they get away with it.

    You can bet none of them live in this area; I mean, if it's on the 'come up', why don't they buy there as well? Then you can walk down the street and check on your 'project' anytime you want.

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Blogs Linking to this Article

  1. Peaceoholics Buildings Yanked, Will Be Used for Homeless Families [UPDATED] - Housing Complex - Washington City Paper

    [...] Human Services hearing today, DHS Director Clarence Carter announced a resolution, of sorts, in the long-running saga of the Peaceoholics and 1300 Congress Street SE: That 13-unit building, which the Peaceoholics had [...]

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