The Board of Directors of Queens Community House (QCH), one of the borough’s largest social service organizations, has purchased the Forest Hills Community Center (FCC), the organization’s initial program site and home to its administrative headquarters.
“The purchase marks an enormous milestone in our organization’s evolution, and it solidifies the continuity of the Forest Hills space as an essential resource for the Forest Hills, Rego Park, and Corona communities,” said Ben Thomases, QCH executive director.
Fortunately, the need for larger and upgraded space has coincided with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to purchase the site, according to Thomases.
In 2017, negotiations between the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which owned the housing project, and Forest Hills Co-op tenant leadership led to the tenants assuming ownership of the property. This, in turn, created an opportunity for QCH to purchase the center from the tenants, which, after years of technical complications, occurred on Dec. 29, 2020.
The Forest Hills Community Center, located at 108-25 62nd Drive, has historical significance. Its development resulted from a heated community conflict in the early 70’s over the construction of a low-income housing project in what was then mostly a white, middle-class neighborhood. In 1972, Mario Cuomo, then a local attorney, negotiated a compromise agreement that reduced the size of the buildings, gave existing community residents priority to the units, set aside 40 percent of apartments for older adults, and made the development the first low-income public housing cooperative in the nation (Forest Hills Co-op).
Two other emergences from the agreement were the Forest Hills Community Center, built to serve as a common meeting space for both new and long-term residents, and the establishment of a new social service organization to operate it: Forest Hills Community House (now known as QCH).
As QCH has expanded into 32 sites across the borough, FHCC has continued to serve as its administrative headquarters. When it opened in its doors in 1976, the center hosted three small programs. Just prior to the pandemic, more than 500 neighbors attended the center on a typical day, and more than 4,600 people passed through its doors each year. The site is home to a senior center, after-school program, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes, youth leadership programming, a day program for frail and memory-impaired older adults, and an evening teen center.
The purchase of FHCC now presents QCH with the opportunity to undertake a major renovation to modernize the building’s infrastructure, add lounges, counseling rooms, and areas for intergenerational activities, and make the entire building more open and accessible, Thomases said.
Renovation is scheduled to begin in July of this year, with a grand reopening in summer 2022.
“For 45 years, the Forest Hills Community Center has been a hub of activity and essential services for our neighbors in central Queens,” and as such, it is showing its wear,” Thomases said. “Now, after a year of limited operations due to COVID, we look forward to welcoming people back to a transformed site in 2022.”