Seniors at Mitchel Houses playing dominos in July.
Seniors at Mitchel Houses playing dominos in July.

Expansion of Borinquen Court would add studios, one-bedrooms

Mott Haven seniors who contend that services for their age group are scarce hope the proposed expansion of a neighborhood facility is a step in the right direction.

An official for Borinquen Court, a 145-unit senior housing complex on the corner of 138th Street and Third Avenue, told Community Board 1 at a June meeting it wants to construct a new building with over 100 new apartments that would be connected to the facility’s existing facility by a breezeway.

Borinquen Court’s executive director, Laura Jervis, told the board that the new units would mostly be comprised of one-bedroom apartments and some studios. One board member expressed concern that studios are too small to provide seniors with the space they need, saying that “some seniors have live-in assistants or family members, or equipment they rely on,” making studio space impractical.

The building’s owner, the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing, says it wants to convert the ground floor of the new building into commercial space, Jervis said.

“We’re looking for an anchor tenant—such as a pharmacy or a supermarket,” she said, adding that the center hopes to “create a clinic that’s related to a medical facility,” such as nearby Lincoln Hospital, along with a day center for seniors.

Access to medical facilities is a key issue for the area’s large senior population. Many who live in Borinquen Court have to walk a long way to access any of the neighborhood’s medical services, Jervis said.

Over 8,000 seniors reside in the district, according to the 2010 census, an increase of about 30 percent since the 2000 census. Many who live in public housing are eager for alternatives to public housing.

Meeting with State Senator Jose Serrano and his staff members at the Mitchel Houses on July 17, elderly tenants complained that buildings lack basic maintenance and services.

“In this building, the A, B and C apartment lines have no heat in the winter,” said Patsy Tirado, 80. “The pipes are broken. They haven’t worked for years. I have to have three heaters in my apartment.”

“My son had to come this winter and put up paper on the windows to keep the cold air out,” she added.

“Apartments need to be fixed and we need new elevators,” said Carmen Echandi, 80. “We need a lot of stuff that housing is not going to give us.”

Although Bronx seniors’ most common complaints are lack of affordable housing, basic repairs and medical care, there are other issues, too, said Serrano.

“There’s no cookie cutter approach to dealing with seniors,” he said. “Some seniors don’t qualify for Medicaid but can’t pay out of pocket for additional services. Now, if the city budget slashes food for seniors they will have to decide between meals and meds.”

The neighborhood’s existing senior centers, most of which are located inside the area’s eleven NYCHA developments, are usually filled to capacity. One local resident who serves on the board of the Patterson Houses Senior Center, Marcelino Sanchez, called any new facilities for the area’s retirement-age population “a good idea.”

“We have a lot of seniors in this neighborhood,” said Sanchez, 78, who has lived in Mott Haven for 36 years.

Local senior centers provide badly needed stimulation for an oft-neglected segment of the population, said Sanchez.

“We have good food here,” he said. “We have services. We have a great coordinator—he loves old people. He taught me computers.”

Still, Sanchez hopes that Board 1’s leaders will exercise caution before signing off on Borinquen Court’s proposed expansion.

“Most builders are only interested in the profits,” he said.

Ruth Kydd, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday, agreed tasty food is one of Patterson Houses senior center’s main attractions.

“The lunches are good,” she said. “We also have speakers and activities here.”

Affordable food for elderly residents is  key to any new space, Jervis said. Once the expansion is complete, she added, the center will begin accepting new tenants on its current waiting list, but, she cautioned, the list is long.

Seniors wanting to be added to the waiting list are asked to submit an application. The longer the waiting list Borinquen Court can show the Housing and Urban Development department, the federal agency which funds the center, the clearer the message it can send about how urgently Mott Haven seniors need specialized housing.

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