Housing Complex

Latin American Youth Center at J.F. Cook School: Not Dead Yet

The renovated JF Cook, still a dream. (Weincek and Associates)

It's been a rough ride for the Latin American Youth Center in its bid to build housing for at-risk youth–along with a branch of the YouthBuild charter school–at the now-empty J.F. Cook School on P Street just off North Capitol. After getting support from the Fenty Administration and funding from both public and private sources, the plan ran into fierce community opposition just as legislation needed to finalize the long-term lease was working its way through the council.

As of Monday, that legislation has expired with no extension, as local electeds had requested. A setback, to be sure, since they'll have to start the process all over again. But the nonprofits say their funding is still basically stable, and they're still working on the executive to reintroduce bills needed to bring their project back to life.

What are their chances? Well, Mayor Vince Gray had been supportive of the project while on the Council, and at a hearing in December suggested that the two sides try to work things out with a third-party mediator. That never quite happened, and the local ANC Commissioners rejected an offer by LAYC to reduce the number of Section 8 housing slots from 47 to 35. Meanwhile, Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas says he's in favor of the project, but has been unwilling to spend political capital backing that up.

"It puts me in a very awkward position because I'm very much a supporter of the school and the program, but at some point we have to listen to the public's input," Thomas told the Examiner.

It's sort of unclear, though, how many neighbors actually oppose the project. LAYC says that after canvassing the area for three hours on a subsequent weekend, they got 40 signatures of support from people living in the block closest to the school, many of whom didn't know the specifics of the plan, or had been misinformed. Even Bates Area Civic Association president Geovani Bonilla says he came around after learning that–contrary to what opponents alleged–the youths to be housed at the school would not be ex-offenders, and the program was entirely voluntary, with intense counseling and job training.

But that puts him at odds with the rest of his civic association, so he's been limited in his ability to speak out. And LAYC, which Bonilla says made public relations missteps early on in the process, hasn't been able to recapture public opinion.

"It was kind of like the healthcare bill," Bonilla says. "They allowed their opposition to take control of the topic."

  • Mike

    Even though the number of slots was reduced, the overall housing load did not change. LAYC's proposal reduced housing from 20 units to ummm 20 units, so there is nothing that would prevent an increase in the future.

    I know painting this as neighbors vs kids makes for a good story, but it's simply not fact. LAYC rejected an offer by the community that would have allowed a number of units, on par with what the group has proven it can manage. In addition, the community is not against the school which would benefit more children than the 20 units of young-adult housing.

    The community should not be blamed for the all or nothing position that LAYC/YBPCS has backed themselves into.

  • Matt

    Wow Lydia, are you even trying to sound non-bias? Thanks for that fair and balanced reporting.

  • deedle

    How many Latino teens were too many? 1 or 2 tokens? Doesn't sound like Nimbyism, but another more insidious -imbyism.

    LAYC's other housing is in my "backyard". No problems. Not with the kids, not with the staff. None. My property values keep going up.

    Oh well, you folks enjoy having vacant property in your neighborhood for the next 10 years or so.

  • Mike

    I'm sure it was LAYC and not the Metro, Target, high-end apartments, and a 25-yr redevelopment plan that made your house value rise.

    Unfortunately, the only option we've been given is 'service' or vacant. a dozen services and 20+ properties (w/in 3 blocks) later , when is it enough? But it's easier to yell nimby when you're not the one living here.

  • hope

    As a person who has worked with the youth that LAYC serves, I can say that it is not just a "social service." The young people who have been in the residential programs are not the "troubled youth" that i've heard of so much in this conversation over the Cook School project. These are young people who, with some support, are ready to make changes in their lives and the lives of others. These are young people who are in college, working, navigating the world without family support in many cases. LAYC provides the family atmosphere in a safe setting for young people to find themselves and where they fit in to be CONTRIBUTING members of society.

    When I was a college student, I was homeless for over a year. It was not because I was dangerous or devious. It was because I did not have the money to pay rent and survive. I did not have family supports. I wish I knew about LAYC when I was younger, but am honored to say that I see young people in similar situations to myself that are making HUGE differences in their lives, and others.

    These are folks that want to be doctors, police officers, teachers. I would be honored to have those people in my neighborhood--- and those people in the neighborhood I have spoken to largely agreed.

  • Larry

    I'd only suggest that the neighbors who are opposed to the residential portion of the Cook School project reflect on their own pasts and think of the support they received or would like to have received to make the difficult transition to adulthood. Please try not to focus on the source of the support, be it organizational or governmental, as opposed to private and familial. A neighborhood that welcomes the young people who would live in the Cook School can be justifiably proud of its contribution to helping those young people become productive citizens. It is not something to be feared; rather, it should be embraced.

  • John

    Lets make one thing very clear. This article is so incorrect. I live on 1st street where crime and violence has excalated in recent months. As a home owner and tax payer I can promise you one thing that the Mayor will be out of office next term. As an edcuated citizen, it is clear that the people signing the pitition are renters and ont home owners who are already on section 8. No one that owned a home on that street and understood the facts would want more section 8 in their neighorhood.

    If mayor gray wants to stay in office he should abandon this effort. If it get approved I can promise you I will go door to door against him in the next election! Build the school in a neighorhood that wants it! Dont put those poor kids back in a negative situation only to push them to take additional steps backwards, give them a small chance and set them up for success in a neighborhood that isnt full of violence to include gun shots, homicides, etc... which is occuring. It should be a crime to put that school in our neighborhood!

  • John

    PS, send me the addresses and list of names from the signature list and I will personnally see to it by heading door to door that they get the real facts and will clearly reverse their opinions.

  • John

    P.S.S. I worked my way through college and had absolutely no support from my family, LAYC, etc..and I wasnt homeless, it can be done!

    @ Deedle - Dont worry it wont sit vacent long, there are many developers or actual charter schools anxious (if you havent noticed) to grab that property and actually generate tax revenue for our city!

  • Tres

    For one, this is the same thoughtful writer who in her last article implied that Truxton Circle was as safe as Georgetown, and that local crime, including the recent shooting, was something that local residents should imagine away -- that it was merely a problem with their perception. Her bias is clear and runs deep.

    "The youths to be housed at the school would not be ex-offenders." Citation needed. I don't know anyone who opposed who believed youths to be ex offenders.

    "My property values keep going up." The reality is that densely located social services do not increase property values. When they built the Columbia Heights metro near you, and when that metro attracted numerous business -- that's when your property values went up. This is not about property values, however -- just responding to your point.

    The LAYC has brought this mistrust upon themselves. In their last statement, they said that relocating would cost them $1 million dollars. Outside of that being a suspiciously round number, it begs the question: what on earth have you done that incurred a $500,000 expense so far? (Assumes $500,000 sunk costs here, $500,000 at a new site). What architectural firm wrote you a bill for several hundred thousand dollars? $500,000 is made up, or an example of corruption and/or incompetence.

    Everyone's getting sick of re-hashing the same arguments. Nothing's going to change. The project deserves to be situated somewhere appropriate -- but there are greater concerns at play here than a single program. We all want to live in a city where each neighborhood has a good balance of residential, commercial real estate, and social services. We have to respect the right of neighborhoods to have an at least an iota of self determination; otherwise, you get the situation we have now, in which a majority of social services get pushed into the neighborhood with the weakest civic advocacy.

    We're tired of being bullied. The primary concern for residents is density of social services, an issue that no one on the LAYC side has addressed. They want their program, and they don't care about the consequences for others.

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    P and North Capitol Street is a long way's off to Columbia Heights, so all of you idiots who keep insisting that the Target and Columbia Heights Metro is responsible for property value increase in THIS neighborhood, need to never ever work in real estate.
    Anyone who knows anything about this particular area, knows that any sort of development is preferable to vacant board ups. There are speculators who are simply holding off rehabbing properties here. If you think I'm mistaken, take a drive along North Capitol street. The corridor between Florida Avenue and New York Avenue, will shut you idiots up.
    LAYC is doing good things that will help improve the lives of people who need it the most. What do you prefer, homeless youths hanging around your neighborhood or an up-to-date facility that specifically addresses this issue.

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  • Mike

    @Adrian Bent-Me Most of the youth to be housed here will not come from the neighborhood. So, no, they are not already here hanging out here. Although, I'm sure the current youth next door in Sursum Corda will provide a nice welcome to the new residents. Look at how well the new mix at Dunbar is working out...

    Also, the building will not remain vacant. Several other, 100% school proposals, are waiting in the wings.

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    Mike- are you sure we're talking about the same place because earlier, you were describing Columbia Heights. This ain't Columbia Heights and Sursum Corda is a total of 6 blocks away from here and the youths don't really hang out in this area, so your point is pretty fucking stupid. But if you are the token white guy that rolls with the Sursum Corda crew and you guys have decided to branch out, please correct me.
    How exactly would this specific facility detract from values? How exactly would another use of this facility be distinct from this one. Cause, any public school in this area is going to be predominantly used by low income African American students. And I'm sure you wouldn't have a problem with this right?

  • Anne

    Youth in DC face so many challenges to growing into healthy and productive adults why do we as community members have to rally against them for the sake of a marginal security risk? YouthBuild and LAYC do absolutely fantastic work in this city and there is NO REASON to believe they would do anything less than stellar at the former J.F. Cook site.

    Maybe LAYC didn't give their community stakeholders due diligence and that is an absolute shame that District residents felt they their opinions were not being hard, but why are we turning this into a zero sum game for disadvantaged youth?

  • Jeff B

    This neighborhood has way too many social services, which because they are overly concentrated, cause many complications for residents and commercial establishments. And, better for at-risk youth to live and study at another location where they will not be endangered by the high incidence of drug dealing and murder.

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    I had a great time on this blog.

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    I'm starting from the top again. I just cant get enough.

  • http://www.miamibeachlanguages.com/index.php/english-class Jason Goldstein

    There are people out there who have jobs and are homeless. It is not by choice. The wages they receive just isn't enough to afford housing.

  • http://www.miamibeachlanguages.com/ John

    This is a great article and very helpful!