Seniors rally to save Williamsburg center

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WILLIAMSBURG, Brooklyn — It was a celebratory barbecue at the Swinging 60​'s Senior Center in Williamsburg Monday afternoon.

The seniors worked up an appetite earlier in the day as they rallied on the steps of City Hall, urging Mayor Bill de Blasio to support New York seniors.

The rally comes months after the center was liberated from a landlord who planned to turn the building into luxury condos. However, for the past year, the city has delayed payment on the center's operational costs, so the Conselyea Street Block Association, which runs the center, told the seniors it would have to close this week.

"There was no money. There was no money from '17-'18 budget and we weren't included in the '18-'19 budget. We really had no choice in the matter," said Phil Caponegro, chairman of the Conselyea Street Block Association

As they shouted from the steps, the seniors got word that the center would remain open while city budget negotiations continue. City Council Member Antonio Reynoso assured the administration they'd be receiving money owed from last year's budget as well as a spot in the current budget negotiations.

But not everyone is confident.

"I'm still skeptic about it, I want to see it before I believe it," said senior Nick Johansen, a regular at the Swinging 60's Center.

The fight for funding for senior programs throughout New York City isn't limited to the Swinging 60's Center, which is why advocates were were on hand to tell City Council to fund senior programs and stop using the seniors as pawns for budget negotiations.

"Every year, it's a budget dance and the City Council puts in money only for one year and every year we're back here," said Susan Stamler, executive director of United Neighborhood Houses. "And that's money for critical senior programs like naturally occurring retirement communities and other supports."

Stamler and UNH are calling for an additional $12 million for senior food costs as well as an additional $10 million for senior center budgets. The money would give places like the Swinging 60's center and others throughout the city some financial peace of mind instead of fighting to stay open year after year.

"Look at these people. We have too good of a center. These people need this place," Caponegro said.

And that's why the seniors said they'll do whatever it takes to keep their center open.​

"We hate to come back every year to fight for it, but if we have to, we'll do it," said Mildred Schiulaz, another regular at the center.

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