2009-01-16 / Front Page

Community Centers Saved From Budget Axe

By Miriam Rosenberg

New York City Housing Authority community centers - including four in Rockaway - which have been in danger since last year of closing or merging, got a reprieve from the chopping block this week when the agency was allocated more than $12 million in funding from the City Council.

The announcement of an infusion of $12.25 million to ensure that 25 community centers, 19 of which were slated to close, keep their doors open was made in a joint statement released on Tuesday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Deputy Mayor for Education and Community Development Dennis Walcott, NYCHA Chairman Ricardo Elías Morales and Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) Commissioner Jeanne Mullgrav.

"Public housing residents are among those most threatened by the economic challenges we are currently facing, and these centers play a major role by providing crucial programs and services that teach skills to help students stay in school and families better their lives," said Bloomberg in the release.

Quinn added, "When we talk about protecting core services, this is exactly what we mean."

Among those centers that were scheduled to close were Ocean Bay Community Center on Beach 57 Street, which according to sources was due to shut down on January 20; and Redfern Community Center on Hassock Street in Far Rockaway, which has been threatened with permanent closure for almost a year after it was shut down for two months in 2008.

Doris Jacobs, president of the Redfern Tenant's Association, reacted to the news about her community center remaining open.

"It has been utilized since it reopened. There's been a lot of participation," said Jacobs. "It is a good thing that the young people will have something to do and [something] positive to do."

The new plan takes effect on February 2 when the DYCD will take over the operation of 25 NYCHA sites as DYCD-funded Beacon community centers through December 31, 2009. In the meantime, the mayor has allocated baseline funding for the DYCD to put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) that, according to the press release, will seek "qualified community based organizations interested in operating programs at the 25 sites. New contracts will begin on January 1, 2010." The press release goes on to state, "NYCHA residents and other stakeholders will help to shape the programming model outlined in the RFP."

Two groups are being targeted with this initiative, ages 5-12 and 13-21.

Howard Marder, a spokesman for NYCHA, told The Wave on Tuesday that eight of the 25 sites to be operated by DYCD were among the 19 centers originally scheduled to close. The 11 others that were to shut down would continue to be operated by NYCHA through the end of June.

Ocean Bay and Redfern Community Centers will be operated by DYCD with the Police Athletic League acting as the Beacon provider.

Marder assured that, "All other community centers will remain open," including Hammels and 41st Street community centers.

"The goal of this initiative is to ensure the healthy development of young people living in public housing," said DYCD Commissioner Mullgrav. Last March, The Wave reported that NYCHA had a budget shortfall of $195.3 million in 2008, due mostly to a "chronic federal under funding" over the last few years. In its January 13 press release, NYCHA says they have been shortchanged more than $551 million in federal funds since 2002.

NYCHA's new Chairman Ricardo Elías Morales hailed the announcement that youth programming would continue at NYCHA community centers.

"This allows NYCHA to focus our resources on safeguarding our core mission of preserving public housing," said Morales.

Currently, NYCHA runs 94 of the 136 community centers in its housing developments. The other 42 are operated by outside community service partners.

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