Seiors at the Maria Isabel Complex on 149th St., continue to wait for NYCHA to start long-delayed repairs on the Betances Center.

Betances repairs two years behind schedule

NYCHA originally planned to start repairs in October 2012. A year later, the center’s building on St. Ann’s Avenue remains dormant.

Seiors at the Maria Isabel Complex on 149th St., continue to wait for NYCHA to start long-delayed repairs on the Betances Center.
Seniors participating in programs at the Maria Isabel Complex on 149th St., above, continue to wait for NYCHA to start long-delayed repairs on the Betances Center.

NYCHA now says senior center will reopen in 2015

The Betances Senior Center closed in July 2012, and the New York City Housing Authority does not plan to reopen it until September of 2015, according to an advocacy group that represents the seniors.

In early June, the beleaguered NYCHA informed the center that the facility would stay closed for two more years.

NYCHA originally planned to start repairs in October 2012. A year later, the center’s building on St. Ann’s Avenue remains dormant.

NYCHA did not respond to requests from the Herald for comment.

“It’s frustrating for me because we have to wait so long,” said Karen Reyes, the center’s director. “As a director, you want your seniors to be back in the center that makes them happy.”

The announcement comes as NYCHA faces a storm of criticism over a years-long backlog to make basic repairs to tenants’ apartments. Mayor Bloomberg was forced to reorganize the board last year and both mayoral candidates have promised to fire chairman John Rhea.

Just last month, the agency lost a nearly-$20,000 lawsuit to an East Harlem woman who was without hot water for two years. The Betances seniors said they, too, think their building is neglected by the housing agency.

“They’re taking their time. It’s always one excuse after the other,” said Mercedes Rodriguez, a 71-year-old Betances senior.

Since the center closed last year, about 60 of the 110 seniors decided to relocate to the center’s smaller, interim facility at the Maria Isabel Housing complex on East 149th Street. Reyes said that many of the seniors who had to walk just a block or two to get to Betances have a much harder time traveling to the temporary facility, about   1/4-mile away.

The temporary building only offers one, rectangular room that doubles as a dining and activity area. There are two bathrooms, and senior Elena Rivera said the women sometimes use the men’s room if the women’s is too busy—something that never happened at the old facility, which had more bathrooms.

According to seniors and Reyes, the closed facility had ample space and a more welcoming atmosphere.

“We are desperate to go over there,” Rivera said.

Repairs include new floors and ceilings, along with relocating the HVAC units, which leaked through the roof and caused significant damage.

Reyes said NYCHA has not told her when repairs would start, and NYCHA did not return calls for comment. Many seniors live within a few blocks of the old building and are skeptical that it will reopen in 2015 as the housing agency says it will.

“Everyday we pass by—we look through the windows to see how much they’ve been doing—how much they got done,” said Louisa Rodriguez, 77, another senior unrelated to Mercedes. “It’s nothing done.”

The repairs take a toll on seniors, said Suleika Cabrera, president of the Institute of Puerto Rican and Hispanic Elderly. The non-profit negotiates the repair work with NYCHA, and its caseworkers help the local seniors.

“They’re anxious. They want us to be there. They need services,” Cabrera said. “They’ve been upset. They’ve complained. And they want the center to be finished quicker than what’s going on.”

Despite pessimism on the old center’s reopening, seniors escort guests around the room they all share to show their artwork and paintings. On Halloween, the women danced while Puerto Rican music played. Men played cards and almost everyone wore some festive attire.

William Turner, 83, who started coming to the Betances center 12 years ago, expressed disappointment with NYCHA.

“We still have fun here, but not like our old home,” he said.

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