Senior Center in Upper Manhattan Fights Eviction

The ARC XVI Fort Washington Senior Center was founded more than 40 years ago. (Photo by Camille Padilla-Dalmau via El Diario)

The ARC XVI Fort Washington Senior Center was founded more than 40 years ago. (Photo by Camille Padilla-Dalmau via El Diario)

“This center will remain open!” promised New York State Sen. Adriano Espaillat to the administration and frequent visitors of the ARC XVI Fort Washington Senior Center, located in Upper Manhattan. Members of the community demonstrated alongside elected officials in front of the church that owns the center.

Director Fern Hertzberg received a letter from Christ Church United Methodist, owner of the space where the center is located, informing her that its 2017 lease would not be renewed. The three-sentence communication did not cite the reason.

“We would like to renegotiate,” said Hertzberg, adding that the administration would be willing to pay a higher rent. “We definitely have to stay, as it will take us three years to build a new space,” she added.

ARC, Action for the Retired Community, was founded in 1973, and has been located at 4111 Broadway for the past 15 years. At this new venue, the senior center has received millions of dollars for renovations.

Nearly 100 seniors visit the center every day to receive free meals, social services, computer classes and transportation, and to participate in recreational activities. Most members – 82 percent – are Latino.

Ana Castillo, 71, said that she goes to the center every morning and stays there until 5 p.m. “We feel good in here,” she said, adding that she worries that she will get depressed if the center closes. “We are all like siblings,” said Castillo, a sentiment that many other seniors there said to share.

“We have been here for many years. The staff and the directors are very good. They help us with paperwork a lot,” said Rosa Valerio, 87, who has been visiting the center for more than 10 years.

Council member Ydanis Rodríguez attended the demonstration. “This is one of the best resources in Upper Manhattan,” he said, appealing to the owners. “Threatening to evict without the chance to renegotiate is an insult to many elderly people who use this space to access vital services such as hot meals and activities.”

Other community members were also present to show their solidarity, including Shahabuddeen A. Ally, chair of Community Board 12 in Manhattan. “Our society will be judged by the way we treat the elderly and the neediest,” he said. The community leader hopes that the board will pass a resolution to decry the church’s actions. The closest senior centers in the area are at least 20 blocks away.

Since 2000, the older adult population in New York City has grown significantly. According to the 2010 Census, 17.2 percent of New Yorkers are seniors.

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