Astoria Houses Senior Center, a center that was expected to have a grand re-opening in June and received $500,000 in funds for renovations and expansion from Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), is one of 12 senior facilities to be shuttered by the mayor in July.
“There will be a cost-effective new approach to providing seniors in public housing with access to senior centers rather than the “senior clubs” that had been provided by NYCHA directly. Those clubs, we found were underutilized, could not provide the same quality of service as our DFTA programs could. So, seniors will go to an established senior center that specializes in supporting seniors. There’ll be free transportation provided that will also save us money while providing a better product to our seniors,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The loss of the senior facilities, including Astoria Houses located at 04-05 Astoria Blvd., has led to many local elected officials and seniors protesting across the city after learning that funding for those centers was left off the Mayor’s Executive Budget for Fiscal year 2020 to save money.
The operational costs for the facilities were estimated to be $220,000 individually and $3.1 million overall, according to Constantinides’ office.
On Thursday, Constantinides and Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and parts of Woodside, Maspeth, Ridgewood and Woodhaven) protested with seniors outside Astoria Houses about the loss of the facility.
“Through delayed construction and ongoing disinvestment, the city created the environment for fewer people to use this senior center. We want the doors open and the center thriving,” said Gianaris.
Constantinides shared the same sentiments as Gianaris, demanding the center stay open amid community outrage.
“Astoria Houses seniors’ excitement about moving into an upgraded center quickly turned into despair over these proposed budget cuts,” said Constantinides.
The center opened approximately 55 years ago after local residents came together and pooled their resources together to set up the senior social club and it was also sponsored by Catholic Charities, according to Astoria Houses Tenants Association President Claudia Coger.
“Until this day, through ups and downs, we have sustained this service,” said Coger. “After all of these years, it is devastating to hear that someone that does not know our struggles or needs suggests taking it away from us. The need is greater now than ever. Just when a space has been provided by our City Council Member Costa Constantinides that gives us room to serve a needed segment of our community. We say think again.”
Over the years, the center has provided warm meals and recreation for the seniors, according to Gianaris.
The mayor believes the alternative centers would do more to help the seniors including providing a safer and healthier environment.
“Many of these senior centers were not meeting essential senior center health and safety standards,” said de Blasio. “Many are not ADA compliant and have chronic leaks, flooding and sewage back up. Additionally, several have low participation rates that resulted in higher than usual per-participant costs.”
Due to the renovations that were being made at the facility, Constantinides office was not able to give a figure as to how many seniors were going to the center but was expanding the center to accommodate more people.
“All 12 clubs have one or more quality senior centers within ¾ of a mile of their location, and in some cases only one or two blocks away. Where needed, transportation services will be made available to the nearby high-performing centers,” said de Blasio, whose office will bus the seniors to the alternative center for free.
The alternative center for Astoria Houses is the Raices Astoria Neighborhood Senior Center, located at 21-12 30th Road, according to the Mayor’s Office. Programs at this facility include a congregate meal, education and recreation, health management, physical health exercise, case assistance, information and referral, and telephone reassurance.
Google Maps depicts Raices to be a 10-minute walk or a five-to-six minute bus or car ride from Astoria Houses.
“Instead of paying for buses to another center almost two miles away, I ask the administration keep this center open to not disrupt the daily lives of Astoria Houses seniors,” said Constantinides.
Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Sunnyside, Ridgewood, Astoria, Woodside, Long Island City, Maspeth, Queensbridge, Ravenswood, Dutch Kills, Blissville) this week penned an open letter to the Mayor asking he review the proposed plan and come up with an alternative way of saving the city money without closing the senior centers.
“This particular senior center is very much needed for the wonderful seniors that attend on a daily basis. Astoria houses is somewhat isolated and filled with hard working, low income people. The lunch program is very important to many seniors and their families. This is unacceptable. I ask that your administration take a step back, listen and engage with our local community leaders and figure out a better path forward,” said Nolan.