Seniors demand city reopen activity center

Retirees who have depended on Betances Senior Center on St. Ann’s Ave. as a place to meet friends are worried delays in repairs mean the city has no plans to reopen the facility.

Seniors anxious to return to Betances Senior Center aimed their anger at city officials for delayed roof repairs on Sept. 12. Photo by Joe Hirsch

Repairs on Betances will begin in October, city says

Fifty anxious retirees gathered in front of Betances Senior Center on St. Ann’s Ave. in Mott Haven on Sept. 12 demanding to know when they would be allowed back in to the building many say is like their second home.

Representatives from The Institute for Puerto Rican and Hispanic Elderly, whose caseworkers oversee the seniors who use the complex, say they were assured in June by city housing officials that the center would be reopened in September, after repairs were made to a leaking roof. The leak was so bad the center’s users had to keep their feet raised off the floor, according to one caseworker.

NYCHA officials now say repairs will begin in October.

Lourdes Dejesus, 77, worried whether the city planned to reopen the center at all. Dejesus says she went to Betances nearly every day for 12 years, to play card games, bingo, and dominos, and to socialize.

“We lived like a family. Everyone is depressed,” she said, sitting in the seat of her walker, then added, “Now we’re all adrift.”

“We need it badly because the winter is coming,” she said.

“We haven’t seen anybody making repairs. They’re not telling us the truth,” said Juan Zanabria, whose 89-year-old mother, a regular at Betances for many years, suffers from Alzheimer’s.

Others shared his skepticism, speculating that the city’s Housing Authority has no intention of reopening the center, and that repairs were a pretext for moving everyone out before reopening the space for a different use.

“Once everybody’s out, everybody’s out,” said Iris Perez, whose mother went to Betances every day. “These people (NYCHA) are pushing the envelope until they provoke violence,” she said.

Some of the seniors walk to Centro Maria Isabel complex on 149th St., but the ¼-mile distance is daunting to many who need walkers or wheelchairs to get around. Others say bus fare, even with senior discounts, is more than they can afford to pay. Once there, they say, the new location is small and cramped, and offers none of the space or homeyness Betances did.

“When I go, I feel as if I’m in prison,” said Anita Gonzalez, 73.

NYCHA officials deny there are plans afoot to close the center, insisting in an email to the Herald that the center was closed in the spring “to complete capital improvements.”

“NYCHA anticipates work beginning in October of this year,” the email went on to state, adding the agency is “in the process of securing permits” to start the work.

Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito pledged $375,000 for the repairs, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. contributed $200,000, and Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo allocated $100,000.

Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo and an aide pulled up in front of the center during the Sept. 12 rally, while campaigning for the Democratic primary scheduled to take place the following day. They were met with spirited chants in Spanish of “We don’t want cups, we want the center open,” as they handed out coffee mugs emblazoned with the Assemblywoman’s name.

“The center deteriorated in recent years,” Arroyo explained, adding that NYCHA has assured her work will soon begin. “They promised to us, before Thanksgiving.”

A caseworker who works with the seniors at Betances and Centro Maria Isabel agreed the center was in such bad shape there was no choice but to close it and repair the roof before seniors could be allowed back in.

“The real problem was when it became dangerous,” said Linda Riera, in her office at Centro Maria Isabel. “Should we wait until the roof collapses?”

“The money is available, they should do it immediately,” she added.

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