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.