Gowanus Lawmakers, Community Advocates Lobby To Reopen NYCHA Community Center


City Councilmembers Stephen Levin (D-Nothern Brooklyn, Borum Hill, Gowanus) and Brad Lander (D-Park Slope, Kensington, Windsor Terrrace, Gowanus) and Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon (D-Downtown Brooklyn, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Gowanus) this week joined with local activists to demand the renovation and reopening of the Gowanus Community Center, which is located in NYCHA’s Gowanus Houses.

The dilapidated center has been shuttered for the past 10 years save for some senior and arts and crafts programming. The lawmakers maintain its closure has deprived the residents of one of New York’s largest public housing developments a place to come together for artistic, educational, and vocational activities.

The shuttered center comes as the city moves forward with its Next Generation campaign, which involves privatizing some of its property for market rate housing and commercial development. While there are no plans to privatize any Gowanus Houses property, there are plans in the works to do so at the nearby Wyckoff Houses.

City Councilman Stephen Levin

“While the community has experienced incredible change in the past decade, the lack of a center is one of the exceptions. Residents are facing more and more pressure from the forces of development, cost of living is going up — where is the upside for the neighborhood? We need something that is for the community and run by the community — neighbors helping neighbors. Community spirit is alive and well here in Gowanus,” said Levin, who through Participatory Budgeting, allocated $475,000 to repair the center.

Before its premature shuttering, the center was a positive force in the neighborhood, providing engaging and productive programming. The center even played a vital role during Superstorm Sandy relief efforts, providing goods and services for the entire community.

With this in mind, the Fifth Avenue Committee, a long-standing not-for-profit Community Development Corporation in Gowanus Brooklyn, has formed the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice (GNCJ) to specifically elevate a neighborhood priorities platform that includes re-opening the Gowanus Houses Community Center and they invite folks to support the GNCJ online petition to re-opening the Gowanus Houses Community Center.

According to the petition, the funded repairs have not been contracted due to a lack of a Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) cornerstone operator, causing a catch-22 situation.

But DYCD Spokesperson Mark Zustovich noted that the community center is under multi-agency control.

“NYCHA oversees the building (center) but it’s DYCD that contracts with the provider of services,” said Zusovich.”NYCHA is working with DYCD to identify a sponsor for the community center, so that the space can be renovated and reopened.”

But the “Catch 22” situation between where DYCD and NYCHA is leaving advocates and elected officials frustrated.

“For us who live on the premises, the Gowanus Houses Community Center is not only here for Recreation”, says ImaniGayle Gillison, Gowanus Houses resident and Director of Theater of the Liberated. “We want to re-open and restore it as our hub for elder engagement, artistic collaboration, educational awareness, holistic medicine, cultural upliftment, veteran support, youth empowerment, leadership development, and neighborhood advancement.”

“Mayor de Blasio, open up our Community Center!” said Tenant Association President Ed Tyre

City Council Member Brad Lander
Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon

“Re-opening the Gowanus Houses Community Center has been a rallying call in this neighborhood for a decade – and now is the time to bring it back for good. It is essential that, as part of the City’s effort to plan for the future of Gowanus, we make sorely overdue investments in the three public housing developments nearest to the polluted Gowanus Canal,” said Lander.

“It’s time to re-open the Gowanus Community Center so that residents can come together and celebrate cultural festivities and access educational and vocational opportunities,” said Simon. “It’s been over a decade since residents had full use of this center and many beloved programs, such as the Gowanus in Unity tutoring program, have been uprooted and are sorely missed.”

The community partners lobbying for the renovation and reopening of the center include  Arts Gowanus, Groundswell,Fifth Avenue Committee, Gowanus Canal Conservancy, Textile Arts Center,Spaceworks, FUREE, NOCD-NY, Arts & Democracy, BRIC, and the Gowanus Houses Art Collective.