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Swinging Sixties Senior Center one step closer to salvation

Bill to save Williamsburg senior center passes Assembly

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An embattled Williamsburg senior and day care center under threat of eviction is now one step closer to survival after the Assembly on Thursday passed a bill that will allow the state to seize control of the facility, say fans of the center.

“That really is a huge step forward for the community,” said Jan Peterson, who is a member of the Conselyea Street Block Association, a community organization that fought to get the now-endangered Swinging Sixties Senior Center and Small World Day Care built in the 1970s and has operated its programs ever since. “It certainly looks good to me.”

Community activists and local pols have been fighting to protect the 41-year-old center at Ainslie Street and Manhattan Avenue since late 2013, when the property’s previous owner sold it to father-and-son team Victor and Harry Einhorn for $4.5 million. The new landlords promptly jacked up the rent, then sent their new tenants eviction notices.

The center and its supporters have managed to keep the eviction tied up in court. But once they’re gone, the Einhorns intend to knock down the three-story center, which provides activities for hundreds of seniors and preschoolers, and build luxury condos, the activists claim.

The author of the bill, which is now headed to the state senate, says the state has the right and responsibility to intervene before that happens, because it used taxpayers’ money to fund the construction in the first place.

“This property was built with substantial public funds for the express purpose of serving the public good,” said Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D-Williamsburg). “This legislation seeks to protect that investment.”

Lentol first tried to pass a similar proposal in 2014, which would have allowed the city to use eminent domain to take control of the building, but it stalled when members of the state senate raised concerns that the legislation could be used to sieze other properties.

This time, Lentol left no room for confusion. The new bill, which he introduced in January this year, specifies the street address, as well as the exact block and lot number on the city’s tax map.

The act would give the state the muscle to save the building and force the Einhorns to keep the senior center and day care on as tenants, said Lentol.

“By passing this legislation we are telling the landlord that we mean business,” said Lentol. “We will take the property back if we have to.”

But if the bill doesn’t make it, the fight is not over, supporters say. The center and the Conselyea Street Block Association are also suing the landlords, arguing that the sale was invalid because the city and the block association should have been given first dibs on buying the property. That case is still working its way through the courts. The next court date is scheduled for Monday.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.
Updated 1:18 am, June 17, 2015
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Reasonable discourse

bkmanhatman from nubrucklyn says:
A victory against the evil landlords and evil real estate developers.
June 5, 2015, 12:40 pm
Ian from Williamsburg says:
A private property owner has a right to charge market right. This is an absurd use of public funds and abuse of public power against a legitimate private enterprise.
June 5, 2015, 10:50 pm
Moses kestenbaum ODA from Williamsburg says:
Absurd use of emminent domain. Eminent domain is not meant to steal private property like this, this is pure theft from a private owner, its absurd and I hope Einhorn fights and counter sues for millions of damages
June 7, 2015, 10:13 am
Richard Grayson from Williamsburg says:
We should be very grateful for the Conselyea Street Block Association, which has been working very hard in Northside Williamsburg for decades. This is only the latest example of their good work. Thanks to them and all the others involved in saving this center.

If you see the famous film "Metropolitan Avenue" from the 1970s, when Williamsburg was a struggling neighborhood, you'll see the Conselyea Street Block Association and many other groups fighting to save our neighborhood from blight. At that point, some of those involved in the fight were grandparents of friends who needed the Senior Center. Now my contemporaries and I want it there for us, just as it was for our grandparents and parents.
June 8, 2015, 9:04 am
Ursula from Downtown Brooklyn says:
Ian and Moses, re-read the piece carefully: The landlord already upped the rent and eminent domain legislation is not being used to keep in place the senior & day care center and the services they provide to the community for more than four decades. If the state and other public entities used taxpayers' money to build, furnish and run the center, Einhorn does not have the right to evict the tenants.
June 8, 2015, 11:54 am
Schelli Hagan from Clinton Hill says:
When a strong elected and a committed community work together, they can win. Good for Assemblyman Lentol and his Williamsburg street soldiers! We have no fighters in Clinton Hill and we're in imminent danger of losing our day care, then maybe the senior center. Both services are housed in the same building, renting from the same landlord; the day care has been there 33 years, the senior center for 42. The landlord is the good guy here: He wanted to continue renting at a rate below market but last year NYC let the lease run out. Since September there has been no lease. If the day care goes, how much longer until the senior center follows? Without a Joe Lentol and a neighborhood that gives a damn it looks like they won't survive. So much for universal pre-k. Thanks, Mayor de Blasio!
June 8, 2015, 1:18 pm

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