Gowanus NYCHA community center wins long-awaited funds to reopen

July 12, 2019 Jeffery Harrell
Local elected officials and stakeholders announce the new funding for the Gowanus Houses. Eagle photo by Jeffery Harrell
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After 14 years of organizing, NYCHA tenants at the Gowanus Houses have secured the funds to reopen their community center — but their fight isn’t over yet.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and City Councilmember Stephen Levin announced on Thursday that the city budget will allocate an additional $472,000 to renovate the dilapidated community center. This comes in addition to the $475,000 won in participatory budgeting five years ago.

“The tenant leaders here have been relentless.” Johnson said at a press conference. “City Council heard you loud and clear, and we acted.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio made a similar announcement back in 2017 after the tenants secured the original funding for the project, proclaiming that the Gowanus Community Center would soon be reopened. But the project stalled when the city told tenants $475,000 was nowhere near enough to complete the project.

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Tenants were told the funds couldn’t be used until they had enough to complete all the necessary renovations, a bill that climbed to over $4 million.

After years of signing petitions, organizing rallies and lobbying city hall, Gowanus tenants are celebrating victory. In addition to the funds allocated in the city budget, the mayor’s office has pledged $3.5 million in NYCHA funding to fully fund the renovations.

The Gowanus community center offers programs and activities for seniors and kids, heat in the winters and cool air in the summer. It also acts as a social hub for the residents of Gowanus Houses, promoting community and offering a place to organize politically.

“We showed that organizing together works,” said Ed Tyre, a resident of Gowanus Houses and president of the resident association. “Everyone has to come together and be involved — or else it don’t happen.”

The tenants at Gowanus Houses joined with other NYCHA tenants at the Wyckoff Gardens houses, who earned an additional $2.5 million in council funding. This is in addition to the $2.4 million that had already been allocated to Wyckoff Gardens for the renewal of their community center, but whose renovations were similarly stalled.

Although tenants and their partners were energized by the new funding, they expressed a guarded optimism for the future of the community centers.

“We’re excited by the money, but we need a seat at the table through the whole process,” said Theresa Davis, also a Gowanus Houses resident. “We’ve heard these promises before, we need to keep going until the work is done.”

Although some programs for residents will begin immediately, programming run and funded by city agencies can’t begin until the renovations are completed.

Organizers with the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice, a neighborhood group that has been working with tenants at both Gowanus and Wyckoff Gardens to secure funding for the community centers, were also excited but wary.

“We’ve heard about funding before, what we’re looking for is a start date,” said Karen Blondel, who works with GNCJ. “We need to know when, where and how this work is getting done.”

The repairs are now in the hands of NYCHA, who haven’t yet released a timeline for the renovations.

“Right now they say it’s $4 million,” said Blondel. “But we’ve been through this before and once they get their engineers in there all of a sudden it’s gonna be $8 million. We’re not going anywhere until they fix this place up.”

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