One Year After Sandy, Red Hook Senior Center Struggles To Find A Home

One year after Hurricane Sandy, the Red Hook Senior Center sits in limbo.

The center’s original location was gutted by the widespread flooding that engulfed the low-lying, south Brooklyn neighborhood when waters from the triple threat of the Upper Bay, Gowanus Bay and Buttermilk Channel poured into Red Hook’s cobbled streets. While the center’s staff was quick to get back on their feet – delivering food and blankets to their patrons in blacked-out project houses the day after the storm – finding a new, permanent location has proved elusive so far.

Since the storm, the senior center has been housed in the Pal Miccio Day Care Center, where seniors share space with a slew of other programs, though plans are underway to move to a building next door. People involved with the center, however, say that city bureaucracy has delayed any plans to move into the new location in the near future.

On an overcast, chilly day last week, it was apparent that seniors and staff were both putting on a good face in the less than ideal situation.

Some seniors gathered around a pool table, chatting in Spanish and listening to music as other waited on hard, plastic chairs for the daily game of bingo to begin. The usually quiet game was interrupted by screaming children from the day care center in a nearby room, and the commotion of residents from the nearby Red Hook Houses shuffling in and out.

“We are happy here, but this is a youth center and they need their space,” said José Ortiz, the executive director of RAICES, a local non-profit for the elderly that oversees the Red Hook Senior Center.

The center, workers say, needs its own location to function properly and staff does not want to overstay its welcome. Currently center staffers are crammed into a tiny office and share a desk and one laptop.

After waiting for months for the basement of the proposed new location to get pumped out, Ortiz said the final hurdle right now is obtaining building plans from the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to move forward with building renovations. When completed, the new center will offer staffers proper offices and space to entertain and feed the seniors on a daily basis.

“I want to make sure that not just this year or next year but for 50 years there will be a place for the seniors,” Ortiz said.

Longtime Red Hook residents said that the neighborhood is used to being overlooked by city officials and having to survive on their own.

Reached by Fox News Latino, officials at NYCHA declined to comment about the delays.

Red Hook is isolated from the rest of Brooklyn by the expanse of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and by a lack of subway service to the neighborhood. While in recent years it has seen an infusion of young hipsters attracted to the large, industrial loft space and formerly cheap rent, for decades the mainly Hispanic and African-American residents have had to deal with isolation, poverty, high crime rates and a lack of nearby civic services.

According to 2011 Census data, Red Hook’s estimated per capita income is $26,483, compared with New York City’s overall estimated per capita income of $59,149.

The effects of Hurricane Sandy only exacerbated the problems in many of Red Hook’s housing projects, with residents feeling abandoned as the city focused on harder hit areas such as Staten Island’s Midland beach and the Rockaways in Queens.

“The storm really affected my nerves when I came back to a home with no heat, no water and no lights for about two weeks,” 72-year-old Pedro Morales, a frequent visitor to the Red Hook Senior Center told Fox News Latino. “It was a really scary feeling knowing you’re going to be living in a cold home.”

Volunteer groups – including members from the center – quickly got busy handing out hot food and clothing as a fall chill set in following the storm and worked to get things back to as normal as possible for the seniors. With the help of New York City councilwoman Sara González, the second day after Sandy hit the Red Hook Senior center had moved into what has become its triage space in the Pal Miccio center.

In the spring, the city also announced that it had designated $1.8 million to fund the renovations needed to get the center’s new location up and running.

“After meeting with architects and engineers, and determining the best way to proceed, I fought to secure $1.8 million to complete the necessary reconstruction of the former day care center located adjacent to the Miccio Center,” González told Fox News Latino in a statement. “As the Miccio Center is a social hub in Red Hook, this will enable the seniors to enjoy the best of both worlds.  I believe this is the least we could do for our seniors as we are the recipients of the rich legacies they have left to us.”

With progress being made, organizers at the center are at the same time optimistic about the future of the new space and skeptical about a quick move next door.

“Things are not 100 percent right now, but they’re getting there,” Ortiz said.