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Congress Heights residents want probe of SE youth facility

Ronald Moten, left, of Peaceoholics and Sandra Seegars, a neighborhood commissioner, argue over a proposed at-risk youth facility in Southeast Washington.
Ronald Moten, left, of Peaceoholics and Sandra Seegars, a neighborhood commissioner, argue over a proposed at-risk youth facility in Southeast Washington. (Christy Goodman/the Washington Post)
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By Christy Goodman
Thursday, May 13, 2010

Some Congress Heights residents are demanding investigations by city and federal officials over a proposed at-risk youth facility in their Southeast Washington neighborhood.

Residents said they contacted various city agencies because their community has plenty of programs and group facilities to help those less fortunate and does not need another. Another such facility would violate D.C. laws, they said.

"Five agencies on one corner. What other neighborhood would they allow that to happen?" asked Tonette Sivells, who lives next door to 1300 Congress St. SE, a building being renovated by Peaceoholics. "They just dump them here."

Sivells, an opposition organizer, requested a full inquiry Tuesday by the D.C. Council into the Department of Housing and Community Development for not requiring a competitive bid for the project's funding, not properly notifying the community and not enforcing the city's 500-foot required distance between existing and new facilities, among other complaints.

D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) and his staff have been working this week to get all parties to meet.

Jauhar Abraham, a co-founder of Peaceoholics, said the group would like to open the building for the Strategic Housing Intervention Program, which would give at-risk youths the opportunity to rent an apartment while learning financial strategies to eventually buy their own home.

"We think a lot of people crave for their independence, but they don't know how to achieve it," Abraham said.

Because the organization has no occupancy permit, it has no contract with any city department or agency to provide services, Abraham said. The D.C.-based organization works to stop street violence.

Peaceoholics received a $4.4 million loan in May 2009 from the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development to acquire the Congress Street property and two others in Northeast Washington, Angelita Colón-Francia, a department spokeswoman, said in a statement.

One of the program's buildings is in operation on Oklahoma Avenue NE, Abraham said.

According to the Peaceoholics proposal, the organization would "provide up to 50 units of supportive housing for extremely low-income, at-risk males that are either transitioning from the District's foster care program, judicial system and/or are wards of the District living in poverty without parents," Colón-Francia said in a statement.

The 40-year loan was provided because the Peaceoholics proposal met a need for an underserved population that was not being met through a competitive process, Colón-Francia said.

Sandra Seegars, a neighborhood commissioner who is being sued on allegations of libel by Peaceoholics, has asked a myriad of government agencies, including the FBI and the D.C. auditor, to look into Peaceoholics and the purpose and funding behind 1300 Congress St. SE.

"This is a government-funded project to house criminals, more than likely," Seegars said. "Every time they tell it, they change their story. Until we know what it is, we need to halt this."

Abraham and Ronald Moten, the group's other founder, said they were open to an investigation.

Abraham said the group isn't doing anything it's not allowed to do. "If they think her call is legitimate, they should investigate," he said.

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