Housing Complex

NIMBY Watch: Neighbors Resist Plans for Youth Housing at Cook School

Plans for an addition and handicapped entrance, by Wiencek and Associates.

Plans for an addition and handicapped entrance, by Wiencek and Associates.

Back in 2008, after the closure of 23 public schools, the District awarded J.F. Cook Elementary at 1st and P Streets NW to two entities: the public charter school YouthBuild, which helps kids who haven't been successful in traditional school settings to learn trades, and the Latin American Youth Center, which planned to build apartments for 47 young people who for whatever reason couldn't live at home.

It's mostly the second part that many neighbors can't abide.

Since the District's decision, ANC Commissioner Sylvia Pinkney has led discussions with the non-profits and gotten hundreds of signatures on a petition asking that the residential component of the project be ditched. The ANC and the Bates Area Civic Association have passed resolutions opposing the lease. Though there are worries about the effect that a high concentration of troubled younguns would have on the surrounding neighborhood, Pinkney emphasizes the effect a troubled neighborhood–with drug activity on nearby North Capitol Street, etc–would have on the children.

"What we have been saying is that if this organization really cares about these young kids, that there is no way they could bring them into a huge population of at-risk adults if they are at-risk teenagers," she said. "That does not make sense to us." Pinkney suggested that the non-profits should instead look at empty former schools at 220 Taylor Street NE, which are now on the market for $10.2 million.

At a community meeting on Wednesday, LAYC CEO Lori Kaplan sought to reassure standoffish neighbors that the kids were used to dodgy environments, and that LAYC's programs had helped revitalize neighborhoods like the area around its headquarters in Columbia Heights. The non-profit currently has about 60 young people in apartments across the city; this would be the first project of its size in D.C. (though the model has been successful elsewhere).

A bit about the financials: YouthBuild has a letter of intent to sign a master lease that will cost $426,000 per year, though that will be offset by the $12 million both organizations plan to put into renovating the building. Kaplan says that fundraising is almost complete–funding sources include low income housing tax credits, grants and loans from Office of the State Superintendent of Education, donations, and private sector financing.

But the lease still requires Council approval. Council Chairman Vince Gray postponed a vote on finalizing the lease for LAYC and YouthBuild to address neighborhood concerns. Though the non-profits have promised to include community space in the school, and to have their charges work on projects to improve the surrounding area, the opponents' fundamental objection–that troubled young people will be housed in their neighborhood–isn't going away.

Kaplan seemed surprised by the level of community resistance. "This is the first time in my 31 years [at LAYC] I've had to step back," she said.

  • http://www.flickr.com/ Mr. T in DC

    Not that this project in particular isn't worthy, but what this city really needs are magnet schools (NYC-style) and more traditional daycare options, in order to prevent middle class residents from fleeing DC as soon as they decide to have kids. Ther are plenty of options for wealthy residents, private schools, etc, and facilities like this for disadvantaged children, but way too few spaces in regular old daycare for those in the middle.

  • misrepresentation

    Wow, thanks for jumping to conclusions and labelling everying in the neighborhood NIMBY's. Why not add rascist, bigot and the standard names to your article while your at it.

    Perhaps a better story would be the one that describes how neither LAYC nor the city engaged the community during this process. The meeting that you attended was first held in the community since the announcement.

    The letters of opposition that you cite were signed over a year ago. In that time, LAYC has made no effort to engage the community or to change their plans. For Lori to state they had no idea there wasn't broad support is a lie. They previously flooded a meeting last October with 50 kids when the community attempted to engage Mayor Fenty regarding the schools disposition. That was the meeting where the resolution was passed.

    In addition there was a petition submitted with over 300 signatures requesting a change of use over a year ago.

    We've waited for them to engage for a year, but instead this is what we get. Talked at by LAYC, told we should treat them like our savior and called NIMBY's by their supporters.

  • er

    NIMBY is such a moronic term. who with a mind is not NIMBY about something?

    no one i've ever met.

  • Lydia DePillis


    Calm down. Honestly, I don't understand why people are so touchy about being called NIMBYs. You don't want something in your neighborhood, but you're ok with having it somewhere else, right? That's all NIMBY means. Own it.



  • kiki

    its not that simple. the problem with this neighborhood is that
    everything is in our backyard. there are over 12 social services in our neighborhood
    i can provide you with a map if you'd like.

  • misrepresentation

    There lies the problem, it's not just about the 'not' in my back yard. Tossing NIMBY out is a cop-out that paints the opposition ONLY in a negative light. You have admit, nobody has ever said "Wow, that's a forward looking bunch of NIMBY's", that's why I won't 'Own it'.

    The root of the opposition has always been in the city and now LAYC's complete refusal to work with the community. The issue is, why can't we have a say in what becomes our neighbor? We've worked with other groups in the past, informed the city of the desires the community has. The result, nothing. We get a group that comes in with their views and a take it or leave it attitude. Why is it our fault for being a NIMBY?

    If this was a private development where they bought the land, fine you should be able to determine what you want to do with your land. This is public infrastructure, that as you saw has an enourmous footprint in the neighborhood, so why shouldn't we have a say in what lands in our lap?

    For some background and an example of what we want in our background, please take a look at:


  • er

    you're incorrect lydia. there is nothing to own in the term "NIMBY". it is a derogatory term, plain and simple, used to nullify someones opinion.

    as if, just because you don't want something, you're out there screaming not in my backyard. it adds nothing to the conversation. you don't want that curb cut? you're a nimby. you don't want trolleys, you're a nimby. you dont want a parking garage, you're a nimby.

    it's only purpose to to be divisive. it's exactly the same as calling someone a whiner.
    is that accurate reporting?

  • Lydia DePillis


    I disagree. There are plenty of reasons why someone wouldn't want something new in their "back yard"--whether it's because the neighborhood is already full of such undesirable things, as kiki points out, or because it's just something you didn't envision having around when you moved there. I'm making no (public) judgment on the validity of those reasons. I'm just saying that if you don't want something like housing for troubled youth in your neighborhood, you are being NIMBY-ish. If you think that carries a negative connotation, then maybe you should think about why.



  • Carol Ann Kell

    I am very angry about the plan to convert the JF Cook School into a residential home for Latin American Youth.

    This project has been rammed down the thraots of a neighborhood overwhelmed with social service agencies doing their good work. The area around Bates Street has enough crime to contend with –muggings, robberies, etc that we don’t need to have yet another group of young people fresh from jail and/or the court system living in our neighborhhod, no matter how well intended they and the people trying to help them get their lives together may be.

    More than anything, and perhaps it’s why the current Mayor will soon be the former Mayor, is the way this was handled. I own property on Bates St close to the Cook School and I was never consulted by the District about my thoughts on this matter. If I lived in say Kalorama or Dupont Circle, you can believe there would have been many meetings prior to the decision for yet another social service project. I know, since I used to live in those areas.

    Add to that the arrogance of the PAYC assistant princiapl, Rebecca Paavola who commented at one of the few meetings held (on a playground, no less) that community support would be “nice but not necessary”. If that’s the way the LAYC administrators regard our community now, think of what will happen when real problems occur.

    What I is outrageous about this is the fact that no other sites were considered for a $15 million project . Commissioner Ransom of ANC 5C12 WANTS the project in her area at Jose Arz PCS, which has been vacant for some time. Why has the District not considered that site?

    What had been contemplated and should be seriously reconsidered is the cultural and arts center at Cook School, something sorely needed in this wonderful part of Washington, DC. I would be much more favor in that being part of our area and so would many of my neighbors on Bates Street.


    Carol Ann Kell

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