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Swing would be missed: W’burg senior center braces for fight after rent hike

Still swinging: News that the Swinging 60s Senior Center might stay open has 96-year-old Filomena Scelta, shown here with dance instructor Herb Alicea, dancing for joy.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

An embattled Williamsburg senior center and daycare got another batch of bad news this week in the form of a huge rent hike and a threat of eviction, according to the center’s manager.

The Swinging Sixties Center has been hanging on by a thread since 2012, when the city revoked funding for both its senior and toddler programs. Pols later restored the money under pressure from residents, but the Ainslie Street hub is bracing for another fight for its life after workers say they received a letter from the building’s new owner detailing a $10,000-a-month rent increase and a list of harsh demands.

“This is an emotional thing, and now we need to fight all over again,” said Community Board 1 member Jan Peterson, who spent the late 1960s and early 1970s working to open the center.

John Pelle, who runs the senior center, says he got the note from new owner Victor Einhorn on Tuesday. The rent is being raised to $40,000 per month and the tenants are now responsible for all upkeep and repairs, Pelle said the letter states. And if they cannot meet the new terms? Einhorn will padlock the building with no notice, according to Pelle.

The facility has hosted bingo games and the like for elderly people, daycare and after-school programs for kids, and community board meetings since 1974.

Peterson said she is disgusted with the city’s lack of oversight, given that it has spent millions on the building in the decades since the senior center opened, and suggested a government takeover as the solution to the center’s landlord battle.

“With all of the public money that has gone into this building over the year, why doesn’t the city take it under eminent domain?” said Peterson.

Peterson said she and others are trying to set up a meeting with city officials to see if a landlord can legally kick out a tenant that is running a city-funded program.

In the meantime, Community Board 1, which has held its monthly public hearings at the center for the past 38 years, is looking for new digs. Board chairman Chris Olechowski said the board took its public address system out of the building after Tuesday night’s meeting.

“We moved it all in case the building does get padlocked,” said Olechowski. “We’ll have to find another place to hold meetings. We might go to McCarren Park Pool or a public school.”

Einhorn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The community group Saint Nick’s Alliance raised $2-million earlier this year for the center to renovate the building.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.

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