Elderly residents who attend the senior center at the Whitestone Armory four days a week love the program. But the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs is threatening to close it down if the group doesn’t come up with extra rent money.
“It’s absurd,” said state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) who has failed to get the DMNA to budge. “Almost 80 percent of the rent goes to cover the cost of security, but they have the National Guard right there.”
In addition, the center monitors everyone who comes in the building so Avella doesn’t believe security is the real issue.
Seniors have been meeting at the armory for 25 years and it’s the only center in Whitestone for them.
“It is a disgrace that DMNA has decided to raise an already high rent on an organization that has a substantial history of service to the community,” Avella said. “DMNA has refused to make any concessions on the rental fee.”
He held a short rally outside the armory on 6th Avenue Tuesday afternoon. It was blustery and he didn’t want to keep the seniors outside too long. About 100 participated.
Armory officials threatened to call the police if the gathering was held on its property, so everyone moved to the sidewalk.
The senator said that the rent was $25,000 a year and now the DMNA wants to raise it to $31,000. “They also want a lease for one year that can be renewed for four one-year terms, but they can increase the rent,” he said. “I never heard of that.”
Avella explained that discretionary funding was eliminated under former Gov. Paterson so that he no longer can allocate money to the senior center. “I reached out to the DMNA to try to negotiate with them and reached a brick wall,” he said.
The lease is up Friday, but he was able to get a one-month extension. Avella is also asking Gov. Cuomo to intercede.
Joan Ubertini, director of the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Community Center, said it attracts 333 seniors and is open Monday through Wednesday and Friday. She’s been with the group for 19 years.
“The program is not only fun and games,” Ubertini said. “It helps with physical activities for seniors and is good for their mental well-being too.”
Although the center does not provide hot meals, there are plenty of pizza parties, birthday events and outings. Ubertini noted that the group takes field trips and recently participated in a three-day trip to Pennsylvania.
Marlene Cody, a vice president of the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Civic Association, attended the rally and said seniors deserve a place to go and relax. “This is the time in their lives where they’re supposed to have fun,” Cody said.
She pointed out that her civic sponsors karate classes for children and adults at the armory. In addition, youngsters can use the facilities for basketball, pool and a place to hang out Thursdays through Sundays. “We need to work out the rental agreement,” Cody said.
Babara Eivers, retired last year and has been coming to the senior center every day it’s open since. “I live a block away and can get here no matter the weather,” she said. “This place is important to me.”
Charles Mangiaracino has been participating in the program for 23 years and his wife, Francis, for 25. “It means a lot to me,” Mangiaracino said. “I’m one of the first here in the morning.”
Avella believes the armory is part of the community and as such should lower the rent for the senior center, not raise it. “They should really provide the space free,” he said.
No one at the armory would comment.