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How the Mold in a Senior Center Spoiled Primary Votes in Throggs Neck

Some elderly Bronxites at NYCHA’s Throggs Neck Houses chose not to cast ballots as their longtime polling site moved across the neighborhood as a beloved senior center remains closed.

SHARE How the Mold in a Senior Center Spoiled Primary Votes in Throggs Neck

Seniors Francisco Contreras, left, and Rubén Castillo elected not to vote in Tuesday’s primary elections after the Board of Elections changed their usual polling site to a more distant location, June 28, 2023.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Older residents of the Throggs Neck Houses in The Bronx are doubling down on their call for the city’s housing authority to repair and reopen their senior center after they could not use it as a polling site in Tuesday’s primary. 

As the older adult center has been closed for eleven months with no reopening date in sight for structural repairs and mold abatement, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and JASA, an organization that serves older adults on behalf of the city’s Department for the Aging, have tried to provide alternatives for seniors’ activities. Those included a community center across the street that seniors could use during the day while kids were in school. With a camp taking that space now, the seniors are being offered free Uber rides to an older adult center at the Bay Eden Neighborhood Senior Center — five miles away. 

With the closure of the senior center that has also been a longtime voting site, the city Board of Elections (BOE) moved the NYCHA tenants’ poll site to the elementary and middle school campus at 2750 Lafayette Avenue. That’s across the Cross Bronx Expressway and about a 15-minute walk away from their housing complex. Many seniors say that they didn’t know about the new location until they came to the center to vote on Election Day.

“I didn’t vote because it was too far,” 86-year-old Pura Figueroa told THE CITY in Spanish. 

While she has a car, Figueroa said that she decided not to vote in solidarity with her neighbors who did not have the same luxury.

Outside the closed seniors’ center, a sign announced a new polling site for this week’s primary election.

Jonathan Custodio/THE CITY

The closed Throggs Neck center is located in Council District 13, which had the most competitive election in The Bronx by far, and the most candidates of any primary race citywide. While Democratic incumbent Marjorie Velázquez bested her three opponents, Republicans Kristy Marmorato and George Havranek are awaiting the results of a second round of ranked-choice voting to see which of them will face off against Velázquez in what could be a competitive general election. 

The BOE did not respond to a request for comment. 

‘We Want to Be Around Each Other’

“We had lunches here. You come early, we used to have coffee here. A lot of members bring little cupcakes and stuff. We used to have birthday parties every month,” 76-year-old Luis Gomez, vice president of the tenants association at 2705 Schley Ave., told THE CITY, recalling how residents would organize activities like bingo.

The senior center has been closed since August 2022, after JASA suspended its program for seniors because of mold concerns, NYCHA spokesperson Michael Horgan told THE CITY. While abating the mold, inspectors found that the site also needed “comprehensive structural repairs to the ceiling and roof, as well as a complete HVAC replacement.” 

That work began in mid-April but came to a halt in May after inspectors discovered that the ceiling would need wider repairs than initially anticipated and needed to be reassessed, said Horgan. A potential alternative for the seniors had been identified blocks away on Swinton Avenue, he said.

Asked when the center was expected to reopen, Hogan said only that the decision “will be informed by the results of thorough reassessment, and when additional funding is identified.”

Pura Figueroa, 86, said many seniors at Throggs Neck Houses, including herself, skipped voting because the new polling site was a 15-minute walk away, June 28, 2023.

Jonathan Custodio/THE CITY

“A space has been identified on Swinton Avenue, and NYCHA, JASA, and NYC Department for the Aging representatives will be conducting a walkthrough as soon as next week to evaluate the space,” said Horgan. “NYCHA is currently partnering with the NYC Department for the Aging to provide the necessary renovations to the Throggs Neck Older Adult Center to ensure that the development’s older adult community has access to a safe, temperature-controlled space.” 

While seniors had been convening during the day at the Throggs Neck Community Center a block away, it’s now being used exclusively for the Kips Bay Summer Day Camp Program. 

For the last two weeks, residents have been offered Uber transportation services north to the Bay Eden Neighborhood Senior Center in Edenwald, Department of Aging spokesperson Gregory Rose told THE CITY in a written statement.

“NYC Aging has been working closely with JASA (the provider of the Throggs Neck OAC) and NYCHA after learning mold was found in the OAC,” Rose said. (OAC stands for Older Adult Center.) 

“For Throggs Neck members wishing to travel to the Bay Eden OAC, JASA is providing transportation services. A new temporary space is being sought for the Throggs Neck OAC members. Once the site is confirmed, the members will be informed on how to get to the new temporary site.” 

Rose did not say how many of those Uber rides have been taken by seniors fromThroggs Neck.

While some residents have taken advantage of the services the city is now providing in the absence of their community center, others have not. 

“I’m protesting. I’m not going to 229th because I don’t feel I should have to go up there when we could stay right in our community,” Bettina Henry, 76, told THE CITY. 

“That’s the basis for having a senior center in every community, for the seniors to stay in their community and go to the center and have activities and different things and just want to be around each other. I live alone. I don’t want to be by myself all day, every day,” Henry said. 

“I’ll move in with you,” joked Gomez.

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