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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

NYCHA cuts could doom popular programs

By Shant Shahrigian
Posted
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Gina Bermudez, 69, plays bingo with several other women at Fort Independence’s community center. Proposed budget cuts threaten the facility with closure.

Correction appended.

Olive Svitzer, a spunky retiree who lives in a public housing unit at Fort Independence, says daily visits to the city-run community center next door to her mark her main activity of the day.

“The center’s what keeps me going,” said Ms. Svitzer. “I just made 80, and I want to be here till I’m a thousand. They drive me crazy, and that’s just what I need!”

A group of friends at the center burst into laughter at Ms. Svitzer’s teasing. But there was also a somber undertone to their conversation.

“This is our therapy, coming here,” senior center volunteer Marcy Morales said. “If I stay upstairs, I’m going to be all depressed.”

“The senior center is all we’ve got,” Ms. Svitzer said before returning to a game of bingo. “Don’t take it away from us.”

However, the future of the community center run by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) at Fort Independence and dozens of other sites throughout the city is in doubt. 

City councilmen and Fort Independence workers say the authority has notified community centers funding will run out this summer, and sites including the one at Fort Independence are yet to find nonprofit organizations to take over the reins as the city recently prescribed.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” said a Fort Independence community center worker who did not want a name published. “We don’t know if someone’s going to take over or [whether] we’ll still be here. It’s all up in the air.”

Tight budgets have constrained the Fort Independence center’s programs for youths and seniors for years. In recent months, staffers have paid out of their own pockets to buy ingredients for meals served to about 25 people per day. The community center worker said the staff continues to buy and prepare the meals because for those who come for lunch, it might be their only hot meal of the day.

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