Follow the Money: A perspective on the LAYC proposal

Please see this opinion piece by ANC 5c01 Commissioner-elect Bradley Thomas:

As an observer of local and national politics for over a quarter of a century,
I’ve come to appreciate the significance of a three word phrase that I’ve heard
repeated by many pundits and political analysts far wiser than I. That phrase is:
“Follow the money!” Whenever one undertakes to analyze any political debate,
especially one that on its face appears to be complicated or confusing, the most direct
pathway to the truth is to raise the question of who stands to gain, financially, by its
resolution one way or the other. From international conflicts to local neighborhood
disagreements, most often the lubricant which greases the machinery of political
discourse is the coin of the realm.

In the LAYC debate, it has been suggested that any failure on the part of the
residents of the Bates Area to embrace Youth Build Public Charter Schools’ bid to
lease the Cook School building would be viewed as our community turning its back
on homeless youth who have no where else to turn. Further, it has been suggested,
that if the Youth Build proposal is rebuffed, the net result will be that the Cook
School building will remain a vacant eyesore and a sanctuary for vagrants and illegal
drug traffickers. Lost in this discussion is the fact that a superior site (a better, more
accessible building with more parking and lower neighborhood crime statistics) is
available not two miles from the Cook location.
In addition, the Advisory
Neighborhood Commissioner for the Single Member District (SMD) in which that
alternate site is located has indicated that her community would welcome the LAYC
with open arms. Also lost, is the fact that our community’s opposition has never been
against the proposal to open a school to educate and train at-risk youth. The
opposition has always been with respect to the housing component of the proposal.
When asked if removing the housing component might be considered, the response
from Youth Build/LAYC has been a flat and unwavering “no!”

Why then do Youth Build and LAYC insist on going forward with all aspects
of their plan, including the housing component, at the Cook School site? The answer:
“Follow the money!” As I understand it, when the D.C. Public Schools place a school
building in surplus, educational institutions get first bid at purchasing or leasing the
building. Youth Build Public Charter Schools, Inc. placed the bid to lease the entire
Cook School building. The plan calls for Youth Build to operate a charter school on
the first floor of the building while subleasing the second and third floors to the Latin
American Youth Center to provide housing for up to 50 youth. The charter school
component is the key to gaining access to the building under District law. The
housing component provides the mechanism for gaining access to substantial federal

and/or district grant money, money set aside for organizations which provide housing
to homeless residents. No charter school, no lease of the building. No lease of the
building, no housing grant money.

Youth Build/LAYC could eliminate most the our community’s opposition to
their lease of the Cook School building if they would be willing to drop the housing
component from their proposal. But even if they are unwilling to make that
compromise (i.e. give up those housing grant dollars), why, one might ask, wouldn’t
they be willing to take up the offer to simply shift to the alternate site? The answer
again: “Follow the money!” Going back to the drawing board at this point will no
doubt cost LAYC additional money to have new plans drafted and new permits
issued.

As a business person, I fully understand that sentiment. All I ask for in this
discourse is honesty. At every opportunity, YouthBuild/LAYC has paraded young
people before this community to give impassioned testimony about how LAYC’s
intervention saved their lives. The stories are personal and moving. And regardless
of what side of this debate we find ourselves on, we all love children and at our core,
we all want to help children, especially children facing the prospect or the reality of
homelessness. But let’s be honest. This debate is not about the children. It’s about
the money.

Bradley Thomas
ANC5c01 Commissioner Elect


2 thoughts on “Follow the Money: A perspective on the LAYC proposal

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