Union, City Agree on Funding for Senior Centers

SSEU Local 371 President Anthony Wells, center, at a City Hall rally last year, negotiated an agreement with the city to maintain 15 NYCHA senior centers. Photo by Clarence Elie-Rivera

SSEU Local 371 President Anthony Wells, center, at a City Hall rally last year, negotiated an agreement with the city to maintain 15 NYCHA senior centers. Photo by Clarence Elie-Rivera

By MIKE LEE

After negotiations with the de Blasio administration, the union won an agreement with the city to maintain 15 New York City Housing Authority senior centers funded by the city.

The City Council included funding for the centers in the city’s new budget, which was approved on June 8. Mayor Bill de Blasio recommended the funding in his executive budget.

Since last year, SSEU Local 371 has led the fight to keep the centers at NYCHA. The city proposed that NYCHA shift the responsibility of maintaining to the Dept. for the Aging, which runs more than 100 senior centers in NYCHA housing complexes.

Last year, DC 37 and SSEU Local 371 leaders blocked a city plan to close or privatize 57 community and senior centers at the authority. Instead, the Housing Authority shifted 41 centers to the Dept. of the Aging and the Dept. of Youth and Community Development.

Because the City Council only preserved funding for the remaining 15 NYCHA senior centers for a year, the union reached out to the mayor during the latest round of budget negotiations to keep them open. The centers, which are staffed by union members, were likely to be closed, which SSEU Local 371 feared could result in layoffs and redeployment of the workers.

“We fought for this,” said Local 371 President Anthony Wells. “We worked hard with the mayor and are happy we came to this understanding.”

In the original proposal, NYCHA planned to move close to 150 social service workers into titles outside of the housing agency. Under the new agreement, around 20 workers will be redeployed—but they will remain in civil service positions.

The senior centers in New York City public housing play a vital role for seniors living in those complexes, providing recreation, meals and a place for socializing with other residents. The city’s public housing is home to 615,000 residents — nearly as many as the entire population of Boston, Mass.

“We are not just fighting for our jobs,” said Wells. “We believe the public housing system needs social services. It needs places to build a community and we are a part of that— and we will fight for that.”

The new budget contains $4.8 million to rehabilitate centers run by the Dept. for the Aging and increase pay for Case Management Social Workers. The upgrading will be phased in over two years.

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