Senior Centers Come, Senior Centers Go

Posted by Nashla Salas and Doug Turetsky, December 8, 2011

You may soon need a scorecard to keep track of many of the city’s senior centers. Against a backdrop of limited funding, the city has closed some senior centers and curtailed services and changed the status of others, yet also launched an initiative to create new senior centers.

In October, the Mayor announced that community-based organizations were selected to create eight new senior centers as part of his “Age-Friendly NYC” initiative. But less than two years ago, the Mayor was proposing to close 51 senior centers across the city.

The plan to close the more than four dozen centers was one of the most controversial parts of the Mayor’s budget plan in the spring of 2010. In the end, 27 centers were shuttered and 24 were spared. The Department for the Aging closed the centers based on criteria such as the number of meals served, the center’s level of use, and the quality of recordkeeping by the center’s operator.

Not long ago there were more than 300 centers in the city’s official network of senior services. Now there are 256—a count that doesn’t include some of the centers that were spared in 2010.

Of the 24 senior centers that were not closed under the Mayor’s proposal, the Bloomberg Administration agreed to maintain city funding for seven. The City Council agreed to provide $1.6 million to keep the other 17 centers open. The funds took a while to reach the centers, long enough that one, Glenridge—located in Ridgewood, Queens—closed its doors. The funding for Glenridge was subsequently redirected by the Council to 12 different agencies serving seniors.

The Council has again provided $1.6 million in the current fiscal year for the 17 centers, including $130,000 for Glenridge. But the building Glenridge had operated in has been sold with no immediate plan for the senior center to be allowed to reopen there. The president of the senior center’s board told the Times Newsweekly last month that Glenridge is “in the process of dissolving completely.” IBO assumes the Glenridge funds will again be reallocated by the Council. Other City Council allocations for the 17 centers range from $20,000 for the Wilson M. Morris Senior Center in West Harlem to $185,000 for the Rain Bailey Avenue Senior Center in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx.

Despite the public funds, the 17 centers were cut loose from operating under the aegis of the Department for the Aging. The department does not consider the 17 as part of the city’s network of senior centers, which makes them ineligible for city funds to support transportation and food, two prime services for seniors.

While these centers have been orphaned from the city’s official network of senior centers, the Bloomberg Administration is moving ahead with its plan to create eight new centers under its Age-Friendly NYC initiative. Eight organizations were selected to operate what are being called Innovative Senior Centers. Among them, Bronxworks will run a center that includes a community garden, SNAP in Queens will provide vegetarian meals, and SAGE will offer services to the city’s LGBT seniors. The centers, which are expected to open in January, will receive a total of $3.5 million in city funding for their first year of operation; these city funds will be supplemented by philanthropic support. The Bloomberg Administration intends to announce the creation of more centers under the initiative in the coming months.

The funds are being found for these new centers even as the Mayor’s budget plan for next year includes a $23.5 million, or 17 percent, reduction in city funding for the Department for the Aging. Last June, the Council restored $14 million that the Bloomberg Administration had proposed cutting in basic support for the operations of the senior centers that remain in the city network, along with another $3.5 million for transportation and food.

Although the new innovation centers are likely to be spared from the city’s budget pressures, other senior centers could find themselves “aging out” of the network.