The de Blasio administration backed off an ill-conceived, cost-cutting proposal to close down the Astoria Houses Senior Center following intense opposition from elected officials in western Queens and prolonged negotiations with the City Council in what is referred to as the “budget dance.”
City Councilman Costa Constantinides joined with the Astoria Houses community on June 20 and announced their senior center, where a $500,000 renovation is just completing, will remain open and continue to provide warm meals and socialization for the complex’s hundreds of elderly residents instead of the city’s proposal to bus then to the Queensbridge Houses nearly two miles away.
“Today, we can celebrate both the opening of the renovated senior center, which will be able to hold more people, as well as its continued service to this community,” Constantinides said on Thursday. “Though these cuts should not have been proposed in the first place, the City Council made sure these seniors wouldn’t have to get on a bus and travel down cramped streets for basic services.”
The councilman was irked that the city planned on closing the facility because it was underutilized. He argued it was simply too small and that was the reason the Astoria Houses Senior Center received the $500,000 for renovation and expansion under the Astoria Cove rezoning in 2014.
Constantinides thanked City Council Finance Chair Daniel Dromm and Council Speaker Corey Johnson for fighting to save the facility.
“The City Council is committed to protecting all of our most vulnerable New Yorkers, and that is why we fought hard during the budget negotiations to reverse the administration’s proposal to close the Astoria Houses Senior Center,” Johnson said. “As part of the agreement, the Department of the Aging will operate this senior center to better address the needs of the seniors close to their own homes. For Fiscal 2020, we are also dedicating $10 million, which will increase to $15 million for next fiscal year, to improve senior center meals and provide better wages for kitchen staff.”
State Senator Michael Gianaris joined Constantinides and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas on Thursday to speak out against the city’s proposal in May.
“Seniors rely on this center for hot meals and recreation but even more importantly to foster a sense of community we cannot put a price on,” Gianaris said. I am thrilled that, by working together and with the support of the community, we were able to save this critical center.”
In recent weeks Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan fired off letters to Mayor de Blasio.
“This is a big victory for the community as the seniors will not be uprooted and can stay at the Astoria Senior Center,” Nolan said before adding diplomatically “a big thanks to the city for listening to our community and doing the right thing for our seniors.”
Maloney said, “I am so happy that by working together, this great community was able to save the Astoria Houses Senior Center.”
QNS reached out to City Hall but a spokesman deferred to the City Council for comment.
Each of the leaders thanked Claudia Coger, the 84-year-old president of the Astoria Houses Tenants Association, for her “relentless advocacy.” It was Coger that warned that the seniors, many of whom were approaching their “dying days” would never allow themselves to be bussed to the Queensbridge Houses, and away from their homes, even though many would forego their one hot meal a day.
“People are excited and we’re having a little bit of a party right now,” Coger said. “I am not a person who carries fear. I don’t promote fear, you just keep pushing. This was a challenge but our political leadership and neighborhood fellowship were with us. We had a lot of people on our side.”