Bed-Stuy seniors and elected officials issued on Thursday a scathing rebuke of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to shut down 12 NYCHA senior centers.
Joined by Councilmember Robert E. Cornegy Jr., Assemblymember Tremaine Wright as well as District Manager Henry Butler and Chairman Richard Flatau of Community Board 3, the seniors rallied in front of Sumner Houses Senior Center, one of the targeted centers.
“No, De Blasio, no,” the outraged residents shouted, demanding that the mayor will make funds available in the upcoming budget to ensure their center remains open.
“I’m appalled, Mayor de Blasio, that you’re doing this to the seniors,” said Adorn Dubose, president of the Sumner Houses Tenant Association. “Why take them out of their comfort zone? You need to fix your budget!”
De Blasio released his FY 2020 executive budget on April 25, outlining a plan to close 12 “underutilized” senior centers and consolidate them with other senior “clubs” throughout the city, operated by the Department for the Aging. For the seniors at Sumner Houses that would mean to be transported about 1.5 miles away to the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Center for senior-specific programming. The proposal, said Cornegy, doesn’t make sense.
“We have a responsibility that our seniors can age in place, with their families and friends in close proximity to their homes,” said Cornegy. “I’m outraged. These seniors worked too hard for this. They are entitled to these social programs. They have paid into a system that would support them as they age.”
In response to the proposed cuts, the City Council called for $3.1 million to baseline ongoing operational support for the 12 senior centers that are under NYCHA management. Funds that are already there, said Assemblymember Tremaine Wright.
“This funding should be baseline to the budget. The money has been sent to the City,” said Wright, referring to state funds allocated for youth and senior services. “They don’t have to look for the dollars, the dollars exist. And we have to make sure they get spent the way we intended.”
De Blasio’s proposed consolidation of “underutilized” senior centers — the administration has yet to reveal the definition of underutilized — would save the city $900,000.
“Those clubs, we found were underutilized, could not provide the same quality of service as our DFTA programs could,” said de Blasio during his budget announcement last month. “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.”
The seniors were at a loss that their bustling, beloved center, which welcomes up to 60 seniors daily, was considered underutilized. The center includes a library, a computer lab and space for the senior’s choir as well as programs like art, drama, sowing and exercise classes, and much more, said Martha Jackson, treasurer of the Sumner Houses Tenant Association.
“We all have spent a lot of time with this center,” said Jackson. “It’s a great help to us. And we have put so much into it. Please don’t close us down. If you close us down, who is going to take over what we have? Let me tell you this: We’re not going to go quietly! This is not our first fight, and it won’t be our last!”
Cornegy pointed out that many residents won’t physically be able to travel to another senior center to get the critical social services and programs they need and deserve.
“This is the epitome of displacement, asking people to leave where they worship, play and eat,” said the councilmember. “To travel 1.5 miles for young folks is nothing — for our seniors, that can mean the difference as to whether they access these services or not.”
The mayor and the City Council are just at the beginning of budget negotiations which likely will go until the end of June — and for Bed-Stuy residents and located elected officials the fight is far from over.
“They say you judge a city morally by its budget,” said CB 3 District Manager Henry Butler. “Mr. de Blasio, where are you at morally?”