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Seniors protest NYCHA cutbacks

Nearly 200 seniors gathered on the steps of City Hall, Wednesday, June 11, to protest the proposed NYCHA budget cuts that would close more than 400 community programs citywide.

“If NYCHA moves ahead with wiping out senior centers, our city will basically be saying, ‘Seniors be damned,’ abandoning them when they need the services the most,” Councilman Jimmy Vacca said.

The unsettling news came at a Housing and Buildings Committee hearing on May 19, when NYCHA chairman Tino Hernandez testified of the agency’s plan to eliminate all funding of “non-core services,” including senior, health and community centers, among others.

“I think for the housing authority to even suggest this is completely inappropriate,” Vacca stated.

As chair of the Subcommittee on Senior Centers, Vacca said the rally urged the City to set aside approximately $70 million for the 2009 Fiscal Year in order to ensure current programming continues over the next year.

They also called for the City to waive the $25-million Payments in Lieu of Taxes assessment it would otherwise charge NYCHA in 2009. The action would improve the agency’s policy to more appropriately correlate with other not-for-profit housing organizations, which are exempt from property taxes.

Putting pressure on the Bloomberg administration, Vacca said it’s only logical for them to negotiate their funding agreements with NYCHA in order to secure needed city services for years to come.

“We talk over and over about how we value our seniors and our children, but these cuts would devastate our elderly and our youth,” Vacca explained.

Approximately 40 seniors from the R.A.I.N. Middletown Senior Center, 3035 Middletown Road, journeyed downtown to make their voices heard.

“They’re very worried,” R.A.I.N. director Patricia McCormack said. “It would mean they’d have absolutely nowhere to go. This is their home away from home.”

Should the cuts go through, McCormack said the results would harm the facility’s approximate 145 daily visitors both mentally and physically, leaving them nowhere to socialize or receive their coveted meals.

“What’s next? Should struggling city residents who depend on NYCHA just pack their bags in search of a better quality of life in Appalachia,” questioned Councilman Erik Martin Dilan, chair of the Housing and Buildings Committee.

Vacca said that with budget negations taking place over the next couple of weeks, if immediate action isn’t taken, NYCHA facilities could begin to close as soon as July 1.

“With home foreclosures and unemployment on the rise, the City has chosen a terrible time to slash one of the remaining safety nets for New Yorkers,” Dilan explained.

Continuing to fight for the City’s most vulnerable citizens, Vacca said, “This is something where I want to take the lead because I strongly believe in senior centers. Now is the time to mobilize.”

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