Just a month after the Swinging Sixties Senior Center on Ainslie Street received a much-needed makeover, its closure is increasingly imminent.
Last year, the property was bought by the father-son real estate development duo Harry and Victor Einhorn for $4.5 million, and quickly enough they raised the rent by $7,000 to $40,000 a month – making it virtually unaffordable to the groups currently managing the Senior Center – St. Nick’s Alliance and the Conselyea Street Block Association.
On Monday morning local electeds, seniors, and preschoolers who use the facility as a day care center gathered at the steps of the center to protest the takeover by the landlords and the rent hike.
The group called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to utilize the City’s capital funds to purchase the building, which the group is arguing should have been offered to the City for purchase before it was sold to the new landlords.
The Swinging Sixties group argued that considering the building had been created using public funds 40 years ago, the City was entitled to the right of first refusal before it was passed on to the developers.
“The administration shares the community’s concerns about 211 Ainslie Street and is eager to find a solution that satisfies all stakeholders,” said Phil Walzak, with the Mayor’s Press Office. The Mayor’s office was not prepared to offer additional comments on the matter at present.
Dolores Pietraniello, 84, has been frequenting the Center for the past 20 years, since she retired from a job at a top New York brokerage firm.
“I only have a few more years to live, and this is the place I want to die, are they really going to take this away from?” she said, astounded that the shutdown of the Center was even a possibility.
For several years, Pietraniello lived a few blocks away from the Center, but rising rents in the neighborhood forced her to nearby Ridgewood. Despite the commute, Pietraniello often takes two buses to visit the Senior Center at least three times a week.
“This is where all my friends are,” she said. “This is my Center. This is my life.”
A bill to protect the Center is currently floating around in the State Senate, but with little traction, and the current session at a close, it’s extremely unlikely it will receive a reprieve on that end.
And the landlords aren’t likely to be benevolent to the seniors’ cause either. In fact the Einhorns have a poor track record. In 2014, the Times reported that the duo tried to get rid of decades long residents in a Park Slope building, to make room for condominiums, as is expected will happen to Senior Center unless it is protected.
The facts don’t paint a promising picture for the Center, but local electeds are persevering despite the obstacles. Councilmember Antonio Reynoso has been at the forefront of the efforts.
“For too long in Williamsburg, private profit has trumped public benefit,” said Reynoso. “This center was built and supported for decades by this community. We’re asking that the Mayor step in and help us keep it in the community’s hands.”
St. Nick’s has also launched a change.org petition addressed to the Mayor, which has so far garnered 112 signatures.
211 Ainslie Street is the longtime home to Swinging Sixties Senior Center, Small World Daycare and monthly Community Board 1 meetings.
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