Youth, elderly bear NYCHA’s slashing of services

Councilman Jimmy Vacca visited the Sue Ginsberg Senior Center on Thursday, May 1. Providing meals and enriching activities to local seniors, the center, located at Pelham Parkway Houses, faces closure under NYCHA’s newest cuts. - Photo courtesy of Councilman Jimmy Vacca's office

On Thursday, May 29, the New York City Housing Authority released a new plan to fund the agency’s financial shortfalls by eliminating a number of their community-based programs, including 94 community centers, 147 senior centers and Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities citywide.

At the Housing and Buildings Committee hearing, NYCHA chairman Tino Hernandez announced the cuts to the “non-core services,” at NYCHA’s 340 developments.

“They’re proposing draconian cuts,” Councilman Jimmy Vacca said. “It’s going backward and it’s something we’re going to fight.”

NYCHA currently funds 37 Out-of-School-Time programs, which serve approximately 3,500 kids, and 90 community centers that cater to another 4,000 local youth.

Recognizing the drastic plan to supplement the agency’s growing deficit, Eastchester Gardens Resident Council president Keith Ramsey said the cuts would be detrimental to the community’s approximate 4,000 residents.

He added more than 60 youth utilize Eastchester Gardens’ weight training, basketball and computer programs each day – all of which face extinction under NYCHA’s new plan.

“These programs are beneficial to the residents and if they snatch them from us we’ll be in trouble,” Ramsey explained.

Looking further to the future, Ramsey commented, “If they don’t get their financial situation in place, NYCHA will be a thing of the past.”

Not if Vacca has anything to say about it.

On Wednesday, June 11, Vacca co-led a rally on the steps of City Hall to demand NYCHA desert its plan to close more than 400 community facilities in coming years.

The group urged the city to set aside roughly $70 million in the 2009 fiscal year to protect short-term youth and senior programming, while forming an interagency task force to evaluate and create solutions for long-term issues.

Without an intervention, Vacca said, “This would take senior centers back to the stone age; no services, no centers, no programs.”

Rosemary Durso, director of Boston Road’s R.A.I.N. senior center, agreed. “It would be a hardship for them, on the whole of their lives. They look forward to being with their peers and without them they’d lead a very lonely life.”

Bobbie Sackman, director of Public Policy, Council of Senior Centers and Services offered a suggestion. “What we really need is the city to find $30 million,” she said. “While that’s a lot of money, something has to be done.  You can’t close senior centers overnight.”

Vacca said that while NYCHA failed to offer a timeline for the proposed changes, he believes the agency will initiate its plan sometime this summer.

“These centers serve as the lifeblood of our city’s housing developments,” Vacca said. “Closing them will devastate public housing residents and leave our most vulnerable youth and senior citizens without any community-based programs or support services. That’s an outcome we can’t afford.”

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