Close Community Centers
Agency Denies Rumors Of Impending Closings
In what he termed a crisis situation, Councilman James Sanders Jr. held a hastily called town meeting on Tuesday to address the possible closings of community centers in Rockaway by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).
"All I know is NYCHA is going through changes," said Sanders at the PS 105 meeting. "They're exploring many things."
The city agency currently has a budget deficit of $51.6 million. Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced on Thursday that the city would not "bail out" the agency, and that it had to live within its means.
Howard Marder, a spokesperson for NYCHA, however, explained the agency's position on the closing of community centers in a prepared statement to The Wave last week.
"The agency is conducting a review of all of its community centers and social service programs as part of an exercise to deal with a $51 million gap that remains in the budget," said Marder. "No decisions have been made regarding closing any centers or eliminating any social services at this time."
"As part of the process, NYCHA is reviewing possible duplication in services in a particular neighborhood, the proximity of community centers and is looking at the utilization rates of those centers and their effectiveness in serving the community."
While Sanders admits that there are no immediate decisions looming, he is pushing community members to be proactive.
"We are not utilizing at the level we need to," said Sanders, who urged everyone, from the littlest child to adults, to register at the community centers.
"If they want to judge us by numbers, let's give them some numbers," he said.
Several opinions emerged during the meeting. One father said his son would never go to a different center because he is afraid to go to a different community complex.
Francine Chapple is a volunteer at Hammels Community Center.
"The kids that are there really need the program," she said. "Some moms work. There are activities. We feed them. They stay until they are picked up. If it is cut, it will be bad for children and for seniors."
Keith Gaffney, who is attempting to start a boxing program for kids, was disappointed at the sparse turnout for the meeting.
"This place should be filled," said Gaffney. "If we were in a different area, the whole town would be here."
Those who attended the meeting admitted they do not trust NYCHA.
"Everything NYCHA puts out is a lie," said Vernell Robinson, echoing a sentiment felt by many.
Sanders pointed out that NYCHA's problems have been years in the making - going back to the Reagan administration.
Assemblywoman Michele Titus backed Sanders, saying, "no money was coming from the state during the Pataki administration and we were receiving significant cuts from the federal level."
At the meeting, Marder explained the fiscal problems facing NYCHA.
"New York has 15 developments built by the state," said Marder. "In 1997, the state stopped paying to operate these developments."
"We've been taking money from the federal developments to cover the cost of operating the state ones. We went to the state and said we needed $64 million to operate these 15 developments. The state gave us $3.2 million."
Titus talked about the money the state allocated to NYCHA in this year's budget.
"We put money in the budget for NYCHA," said Titus, who added that the city has a $5 billion surplus. "We have to put our priorities straight. Funding is available."
In the state budget, NYCHA is allocated a total of $135.8 million. In addition to the $3.2 million, there is $1.2 million for tenant patrol, $6.4 million for capital modernization, a pending $25 million in capital monies and $100 million over two years in rate reimbursements. While that sounds like a lot of money, only the $3.2 million is for operating costs. It is not known what exactly the $100 million, divided over two years, is specifically for.
Sanders said he would reach out to tenant association presidents, many who couldn't make the meeting, to make sure everyone is on the same page and then schedule a follow-up meeting.
Meanwhile, Phillip Goldfeder, the Queens Director of the Community Assistance Unit for the Mayor's Office, represented the Mayor's Office at the meeting.
"The city will examine all options," Goldfeder told The Wave. "Ultimately, we will evaluate what is best for the city and for the housing authority. My job is to listen to the community and make sure the concerns of the community are heard by the mayor's office."