Astoria community centers to close

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Residents and organizers at two of the largest public housing complexes in western Queens are reeling after news that their community centers will close at the beginning of next month.

The New York City Housing Authority is shuttering the centers at the 4,500−resident Ravenswood Houses and the 3,200−resident Astoria Houses as part of a plan to cut a $195.3 million budget shortfall this fiscal year. They are just two of 19 NYCHA centers scheduled for closing in December and January. A third shuttered center in Queens is located in the Latimer Gardens houses in Flushing.

NYCHA spokesman Howard Marder said the plan to close the centers has been discussed at City Council meetings. The closures of the community centers, which are not directly federally funded, are only expected to reduce the agency’s deficit to $160 million, he said.

“We’ve lost $611 million in operating funding from fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2008,” he said. “Capital funding cutbacks are another $502 million. That’s a lot of money.”

But the news still outraged Carol Wilkins, president of the Ravenswood Residents Association, who has started circulating petitions to save the center.

“It’s a pathetic, crying shame. I can’t express how heartbroken I am over it,” she said, noting the center hosts senior gatherings, exercise classes, dances and other community events. “You take a community center out of a community, it’s just like plucking the heart out of a person.”

She said young people in her buildings have started dancing in the lobbies in anticipation of losing the community centers.

“Don’t balance the budget on the backs of these children. Do something else,” she said. “I understand there’s an economic imbalance, but we weren’t the ones that caused it.”

Bishop Mitchell Taylor, founder of the nonprofit East River Development Alliance, said the community centers are key to his group’s outreach efforts in the housing projects, including GED classes and youth programs.

“There’s certainly going to be a derogatory impact because of the community center closings,” he said.

But there may be hope for Ravenswood and Astoria. NYCHA is looking for private vendors to keep the centers running.

“We’ve been asked and we’re strongly considering Ravenswood and Astoria,” Taylor said. “But I’m not sure if we’d be able to do both.”

Marder had high praise for Taylor’s organization.

“It would be great if he can become a partner and help out people in that community even more than he’s already done,” Marder said.

Wilkins said she supported the idea.

“Right now? Anything,” she said, noting she would like to see her tenants organization take over the center. But she admitted they would still need the programming from groups like ERDA and the YMCA.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

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