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Center of attention: City to invest in Boerum Hill, Gowanus community centers

Center of attention: Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced the joint funding of almost $4.5 million for the Gowanus Houses Community Center with local pols, tenants, and activists, at the Baltic Street public housing complex on July 11.
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The city will invest more than $9 million into two community centers located at public housing complexes in Gowanus and Boerum Hill, Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced Thursday.

The New York City Housing Authority and Council will invest close to $4.5 million to renovate and reopen a long-shuttered community center at the Gowanus Houses, and will spend $4.9 million to refurbish and expand the Wyckoff Gardens facility, offering residents a place to gather and enjoy educational programming, according to Johnson.

“These spaces are places where neighbors meet to socialize, to participate in cultural and educational activities, to share their experiences,” Johnson said at the at the July 11 press conference outside the Gowanus Houses.

The Gowanus center currently offers limited senior programming, but most of the building has been shuttered for the last 14 years, and the structure suffered severe flood damage due during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Local youth, meanwhile, have been more-or-less disenfranchised from the community center, according to one prominent resident, who went so far as to blame the poor social skills displayed by younger residents on the lack of city-subsidized programming.

“They don’t know how to interact with other people and because of that lack of education that they should have had, they were deprived of something,” said Ed Tyre, president of the Gowanus Houses Resident Association.

In addition to repairs, the new funds will provide the Gowanus center with a rounded suite of educational programing to serve locals of all ages, with cultural, artistic, and educational services provided through the Cornerstone Program, a city-run initiative that produces events and classes hosted at public housing facilities.

And the center will remain partially open throughout construction, with $50,000 earmarked for tutoring and recreational programs, although the Department of Design and Construction, which will manage the Gowanus center construction, could not say when that programming would kick off.

The $4.9 million earmarked for the Wyckoff Gardens center — which offers after-school and youth programs, as well as senior services — will fund a new kitchen, as well as classrooms for skills and job trainings, according to Johnson.

Despite Thursday’s fanfare, the Housing Authority could only provide a start date for the Wyckoff Gardens project — expected to enter the design phase in September — and some community members remain skeptical of the city and its promises, saying it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve suffered false starts.

“We have heard about announcements of funding in the past, at least three times,” said S.J. Avery, a member of the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice. “What we are looking for now are start dates. We need to know when, where, and how. That’s the next step and we’re sure you can make that happen.”

One community activist said that the facilities will help housing residents organize politically, and advocate for issues including the federal cleanup of Brooklyn’s Nautical Purgatory — the Gowanus Canal — as well as a planned rezoning of the neighborhood being pushed by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Right down the street you have the Gowanus Superfund, and you have the Gowanus neighborhood-wide rezoning,” said Michael Higgins Jr., of the local activist group Families United for Racial and Economic Equality. “There’s a number of different things and intricacies that need to be explained and understood by the residents and how it’s going to impact them going forward.”

Council will fully fund the Wyckoff Gardens project, while the Housing Authority, at $3.5 million, will chip in the lion’s share of money for the Gowanus center, with the rest — including $475,000 from Councilman Stephen Levin’s (D–Boerum Hill) discretionary fund that’s languished in bureaucratic limbo since 2014 — coming from the city’s legislature.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Updated 1:42 pm, July 12, 2019
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