Notes from JF Cook School/LAYC hearing

I attended the JF Cook School property disposition hearing held at the Wilson Building this past Friday, 12/10/2010. I took some notes, that are just my notes, which I am sharing with you.

These notes are NOT intended to be comprehensive and aren’t necessarily in chronological order. You are welcome to add comments, since I have not included the names of all of the testifiers, etc.  But I wanted to at least provide my sense of what was discussed at the hearing. I should state that I am a resident of Bloomingdale and not Truxton Circle/Bates area.     

And it should be noted that I did not testify at the hearing — I only attended the hours-long hearing.    

Here is the link to the DC Council agenda that includes this hearing:  http://www.dccouncil.washington.dc.us/media/2010%20COW%20agendas/11-23-10regmtgfinal.pdf

I should state that I have the utmost respect for Arthur Dade, Executive Director, Youth Build Public Charter School.  Both DC Council Chair Gray and Ward 5 Councilmember Thomas stated the same.

So here we go:

ANC 5C12 Commissioner Gigi Ransom said that the area is overwhelmed by social services.  She suggested an alternate location – 220 Taylor Street NE – which she said would be welcomed by that local community.  Apparently, the Yu Ying charter school is pursuing the Taylor Street NE space (see this Housing Complex post:  http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2010/12/08/yu-ying-charter-school-closing-in-on-220-taylor-street-ne/)

A set of residents on or around Hanover Place NW spoke in opposition – mentioned the nearby 13 social services organizations.

Chairman Gray, formerly with Covenant House, stated that he has utmost respect for LAYC.

Chair Gray: “What has been done to meet with the community?”   A flurry of  public meetings, although not everyone is on the email lists where meetings are announced.  One set of testifiers in opposition were from the Hanover Place Civic Association, which  felt totally dissed.

Lori Kaplan of LAYC acknowledged that LAYC did not pursue enough effective outreach to the community, but stated that they do have some letters of support from residents who live nearby.  But I should add that NONE of the nearby residents provided in-the-flesh testimony in support of the project.  All of the nearby residents who testified at the hearing were in opposition.

LAYC indicated that it wouldn’t have the money to pursue the school portion of the project without the Section 8 housing financing in place.

CM Thomas identified many of the supporters of the project as people he has known for years.  He said that he needed to listen to both sides.

The 12/8/2010 post at the BACA blog by ANC 5C01 Commissioner-Elect Bradley Thomas titled “Follow the Money: A perspective on the LAYC proposal” does seem to accurately describe this project as * not * being a charter school project with a housing component, but rather a housing project with a charter school component.

Funding for the project is coming from 1) Lower Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), 2) mental health dollars and 3) private foundation money (which someone mentioned was Fannie Mae Foundation money).

All of this funding would evaporate without having the housing component.

Also, the term “Section 8” — officially titled Housing Choice Voucher Program, but still commonly referred to as Section 8 – was not mentioned in any meetings or messages/emails that I read prior to the hearing.  Those of us who have been around awhile know that the term “affordable housing” can translate to mean “Section 8.”  But not all residents know that.  I am sure that there are some Truxton Circle residents even today do not realize that the 20 units of affordable housing proposed for the upper floors of the JF Cook School would indeed be Section 8 apartments.

Is there a tremendous demand for Section 8 housing in the District of Columbia at this time?  Absolutely.  Should all Section 8 tenants be categorized as “undesirable?”  Absolutely not.  But nearby residents should know what is being proposed.   The 20 units of housing would all be Section 8.  (And if you want to perceive Section 8 housing as being undesirable, then there isn`t much that I can do to change that perception.)

CM Thomas floated the idea more than once about arts space housing (rather than Section 8 housing, one might suppose).  “Can we be creative?” he said.   But again, the financing lined up at this point centers upon LIHTC.  I don’t think that LIHTC can be used for arts space housing.  The entire project is dependent upon the Section 8 housing being financed through LIHTC.

There was abundant testimony in support of LAYC/YouthBuild.  I didn’t write down all of the parties who testified in support or what their specific messages were.  Note that I do not wish to belittle that testimony at all!  Many supporters spoke passionately about both LAYC and YB, including current students.

A common theme that nearly all who spoke against the proposed disposition was “we were all told that it was a done deal and that we needed to get over it.”  How many times did testifiers in opposition say that?   Over and over and over and over again.

Peter Waddell, property owner along North Capitol Street NW whose rear faces the school property, described the current state of drug dealing and over-concentration of social service providers in the North Capitol Street corridor.  He said that the boosters do not acknowledge the existing problems – that the issues need serious discussions.  The boosters are only providing PR fluff.

Someone commented that the autonomy of the community must be respected.  The community organizations that voted against the proposal were listed (BACA, ANC 5C, Hanover, etc.).

At-Large Councilmember Michael Brown, who briefly attended the hearing, asked LAYC/YB “What is your strategy to address the ANC opposition resolution?”  He also said, “We all need to make sacrifices,” which appeared to be addressed to the community.

Chair Gray said more than once that there was no apparent opposition to the LAYC or YouthBuild.  He was able to clearly identify a common technique at council hearings of “piling on the bodies” who spoke in support of both programs.   Chair Gray was able to distinguish piling on the bodies testimony from the issue of community impact (and please!  Do not take my use of the expression “piling of the bodies” to diminish the worth of the testimony of the project supporters!  Don’t go there!)

The property disposition resolution will continue after December through February 2011.  My comment: Councilmember Thomas or other councilmembers can introduce legislation to extend the end date of the resolution, I suppose.

At the end of the hearing, Chair Gray stated that LAYC/YB had indeed not done a good job regarding process.  (But he wasn’t suggesting that the process missteps by LAYC/YB were a deal killer, as it were.)

He asked the seated supporters what they thought appropriate next steps were to try to reconcile issues with the community.   He said that there needs to be a compromise – we need to work towards a common solution.

Two of the testifiers – from the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates — said that they would meet with the community and try to educate the community to adopt the pro-school/housing position.  “Need to break down assumptions, the community needs to meet the youth who will live there, the community needs to understand who is moving in.”  In other words, “we don’t see a need to compromise, we aren’t wrong, the community is wrong and we just need to educate them to bring them around.”

These were two people who are unclear on the concept of what Chair Gray was emphasizing – the need for some degree of compromise.

These two people from the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates were saying, “we don’t need to compromise, the community does.” <sigh> Those two testifiers earn an F-.   They weren’t doing the LAYC/YB cause any favors!  Lordie, how clueless can you get!

Only Hedda McClendon, social service deputy director at LAYC, had a clue.  She stated that the community had some legitimate concerns.  She commented on the possibility of a community advisory board or something similar (an idea which apparently has not been embraced).   Ms. McClendon was the only one had a clue of what Chair Gray was trying to get from the supporters.  She earns at A+ !

Robin-Eve Jasper, Director of the DC Department of Real Estate Services, stated that she did not think that there would be any opposition by the community to the Section 8 housing component of the project.  The award letter was issued and * then * her office learned about the community concerns.  She did say that perhaps that assumption was short-sighted in retrospect.

Chair Gray also asked Robin-Eve Jasper if she could perform some analysis to see if the financing numbers might work with perhaps fewer than 20 units of Section 8 housing.   What about 15 units?  What about 10 units?   So I guess that her office will be running some numbers and reporting back to Chair Gray.   The question that then arises is:  Would the community feel more comfortable with fewer housing units?  Or is it all or nothing?  She said that her office could assist with the discussion on the possibility of fewer number of housing units at the site.

ANC 5C11 Commissioner Ronnie Edwards reiterated ANC 5C’s position of opposition.  Chair Gray asked Ronnie Edwards:  “Is ANC 5C willing to revisit the proposal that includes a housing component?”  Ronnie commented — I would be open to the discussion – it is * not * a no-compromise/no housing position. It is not a position of the “residential is off the table completely.”   But he also said that he could not speak for the entire commission – that he would need to meet with the ANC 5C commissioners before anything like a revote could occur. So Ronnie did not make any hard-and-fast commitments, which was wise.

However, my observation would be that for many residents of the immediate community, there * is * no compromise.  I think that I heard that for many residents, the inclusion of a housing component in the project would be categorized as unacceptable.  So the ANC 5C potential discussion of the housing component of the project may butt heads with some of the nearby neighbors who do not want * any * housing at the site at all.

Chair Gray asked if the current LAYC project in Columbia Heights was successful without a housing component.  LAYC said yes.

Chair Gray suggested the development of a Small Area Plan for the area.  CM Thomas said that there was money in the budget for a Land Use Plan, which sort of sounds like a diluted version of a Small Area Plan.  It was noted that Ward 5 Planner Deborah Crain would be advised of the discussion.   I believe that a Small Area Plan has to blessed by the DC Council (please correct me if I am wrong) — and the funds for the Land Use Plan would need to be reprogrammed to the Small Area Plan.  How long would all of that take?  It could take several months, so the Small Area Plan track suggested by Chair Gray won’t happen before the time limit of the land disposition resolution expires in February 2011.

Both Chair Gray and CM Thomas mentioned the need for mediation in the discussion.  Mr. Gray said that the number-crunching work offered by Robin-Eve Jasper’s team could run on a parallel track while some mediation between LAYC/YB and the community got underway.

Questions at this point:  When does the commitment by the financiers of the project lined up by LAYC/YB expire?  Would LAYC/YB be able to secure extensions from their financiers while mediation commences between LAYC/YB and the community?

In any event, thanks to all who provided testimony, either in support or opposition. You will be able to read all of the testimony when it is available online.


3 thoughts on “Notes from JF Cook School/LAYC hearing

  1. Thanks very much, Scott, for updating us on the hearing. I appreciate your willingness to help us all stay as informed as possible

  2. Thanks for the notes Scott, it was a marathon hearing.

    The small area plan was an unexpected gift from the council. Hopefully it’s the start of some much needed (positive) attention by the city.

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