Fate of NYCHA Community Centers Remain Up In The Air
By Stephen Witt
Public housing tenant leaders facing the prospect of 57 community and senior centers closing July 1 expressed everything from utter despair to cautious optimism that either the City Council or the New York City Housing Authority will come up with the money to keep the centers open.
“We’re doing all the paperwork to operate the center ourselves, and we’re still hoping the City Council restores our funding and if that doesn’t work, and if neither works the center will close,” said Lafayette Gardens Resident Association President Tyree Stanback.
Lafayette Houses in Brooklyn has seven buildings that are 13, 15 and 20-stories tall. There are 880 apartments with some 2,680 residents. The 7.68-acre site is bordered by Lafayette, Classon, DeKalb and Franklin Avenues.
Stanback said the Lafayette Gardens Community Center, which houses both the senior center and programs for youth, may close. The center currently is staffed with NYCHA employees and a resident working as a consultant.
About 40 kids attend the after-school program there on a daily basis, and 15-20 teens consistently attend an evening program there, and there is programming for seniors every day from 10 am to 2 pm. The center also serves snacks and dinner.
“It is crucial to keep the center open as the city already reduced the summer youth employment program and with no community center, it will be chaos this summer as idle hands will become the devil’s workshop,” said Stanback.
Stanback said the complex could also use more policing, but if given the choice between more policing or having the community center stay open complete with its services, he would choose the latter.
“Everyone is saying crime is on the rise in NYCHA buildings, but with the grave reduction in services and community operations and social services, it is driving the young people back to the street, and when that happens you see an increase in crime,” he said.
Charlene Nimmons, president of the Wyckoff Gardens Resident Association, said she is aware that the complexes community/senior center will run out of money on July 1, but it is her understanding there will be a summer program for kids that will operate daily from 9 am to 5 pm.
“We have requested (since last year) to both the City Council and mayor to understand funding is needed to keep the center open and that it is a valuable resource in our community that helps our children and our families. They are clearly aware we need the funding,” said Nimmons.
“Last year we stood out there (City Hall) with the unions and many elected officials stood with us. We made it clear we needed funding to keep the centers open and people working. When they put the money in for one year, I asked them to not let it be a Band-Aid and that we wanted it as a line item in the budget, but now we’re right back where we were last year,” she added.
The Tompkins Houses Community Center is one of several Bedford-Stuyvesant NYCHA developments that face either their community center or senior center closing due to no NYCHA funding after June 30.
“As far as I know, there won’t be a summer camp, but the last I heard the center will be open,” said Tompkins Houses Resident Association President Leora Keith, adding that in past summers 30-40 kids attended the daily camp at the center, which includes field trips.
“There should be more opportunities for them (youths), but NYCHA is always crying broke and there’s no money for the kids,” she added.
“No one wants to see NYCHA community centers closed,” said NYC Public Advocate Letitia James. “NYCHA needs to refurbish and reimagine these spaces as state-of-the-art community centers that appeal to residents and the larger community. Most urgently, the administration must strongly consider increasing officers– specifically officers assigned to PSAs– to address the safety issues that often deter residents from exploring their nearby centers.”
Neither the de Blasio Administration or City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito responded to calls on the fate of the community and senior centers facing closure.
A NYCHA spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement, “A determination has not been made as to whether or not NYCHA-operated community centers, including the Tompkins center, will close”.