Astoria’s elected officials were astonished to learn that the city plans on closing the only senior center at the Astoria Houses in early July just as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s budget goes into effect.
Residents were expecting to celebrate the grand reopening of their renovated facility after Councilman Costa Constantinides allocated $500,000 in funding for the project to turn a “glorified broom closet” into a proper senior center.
“I was beside myself after I got the phone call,” Constantinides said. “Instead of celebrating the long-anticipated reopening, our elderly NYCHA residents get the worst possible news. This is where they get their only hot meal of the day and now they’re being told they have to travel to Queensbridge and that will only make the struggles they face every day that much harder. That’s unacceptable.”
He said the city could close as many as 12 NYCHA senior centers across the five boroughs for a savings of around $3 million.
A City Hall spokesman confirmed the closing saying it is a cost-cutting move while providing seniors with access to better centers nearby. The city will provide buses to transport seniors to the Queensbridge Houses center nearly a mile away. The spokesman said the facility at the Astoria Houses was underutilized.
“Of course it was underutilized; it was tiny. That’s why we were renovating it,” Constantinides fumed. “The problem is they’ve never dedicated the proper resources to this facility.”
A member of Constantinides’ team likened the scenario to something out of a bizarre Kafka novel.
“The Astoria Houses Senior Center provides a vital lifeline for local seniors who are too often cut off from services available to other western Queens residents,” state Senator Michael Gianaris added. “I will fight against this closure to make sure our seniors get the respect and attention they deserve.”
The Astoria Houses Senior Center serves hundreds with its lunch program and other activities such as art and crafts and cultural programs.
“Seniors are the backbone of our communities and I am truly outraged to hear that the Astoria Houses Senior Center will be closing,” Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas said. “With this closure, New York City is sending a disgraceful message that seniors are not a priority. I strongly urge the mayor to re-evaluate and reverse this misguided decision given the detrimental impact it will have on countless seniors on northwest Queens.”
Claudia Coger, the 84-year-old president of the Astoria Houses Tenant Association, said her development is “full or senior citizens” who were desperate for the larger renovated senior center, and bussing them to Queensbridge Houses will simply not work.
“There is a mindset in elderly people where they will not be transported. They want to be in their home,” Coger said. “Here they are coming up on their dying days and the lunch program is their one hot meal of the day because they’re on fixed incomes. They’re not going to get the nutrition they need. We are not going to sit here and go quietly. We’re going to have our say.”
Coger was incensed to learn the City Hall spokesman called the senior center underutilized.
“We have meals there. We sew. We take dance classes, and we have pictures, proof that it’s an active center,” she said. “There’s a lot more to this than meets the eye. They could have avoided a lot of trouble if they only talked to us. We’re going to fight, and we are going to win, I assure you.”
The current facility costs around $220,000 to operate annually, according to Constantinides’ office.
“I’ll be fighting to get that funding restored,” he said. This can’t be part of the budget dance each year and these residents deserve better.”