Seniors say city of Austin is pricing them out of their recreation center

Seniors say the cost to rent space in their senior centers is going up hundreds of dollars

Teddy Sousares dancing at the Lamar Senior Activity Center. (KXAN Photo)
Teddy Sousares dancing at the Lamar Senior Activity Center. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Seniors on a fixed income are careful when it comes to how they spend their money. For some active seniors, they’re worried the city-owned space they use for social gatherings and activities will become too costly for them to rent.

Recently, the city of Austin notified groups that rent space in its recreation centers that their bills will go up considerably at the start of 2018.

“It really has gone out of sight,” said Teddy Sousares, who’s part of “Let’s Dance,” a group that has rented a room with a floating wood dance floor at Lamar Senior Activity Center for years. “The problem is not all seniors are going to be able to afford the amount of money that the club would have to increase the cost of dancing.”

Sousares’ group says they rent the space out for a couple of hours almost every Friday night. In the past, group members say it has cost them a little less than $70 a gathering.

Starting next year, the city will require a four-hour rental minimum. The increased rental time and rates will cost the dance group hundreds of dollars more.

The city plans to raise the rate of the room at the Lamar Senior Activity Center to $50 an hour. It will also charge $55 an hour for staff and utilities fees, another $50 per hour for the kitchen they use to serve snacks, along with an extra $25 an hour for use of the ice machine. A $300 deposit would also be required to rent those spaces each time. If they were to rent all those things, it would cost the group $720 for a four-hour evening, not counting the deposit.

Division manager of community recreation for Austin Parks and Recreation Department Lucas Massie says the higher fees are a result of the city mandating a higher living wage for employees.

“We’re looking to recover 100 percent of our costs, and as our costs go up, we have to increase our rates,” Massie said, adding that events held by groups like “Let’s Dance” keep the center open after-hours, requiring employees to work extra hours.

Sousares argues too many seniors are on fixed incomes and can’t afford such high rates, but he doesn’t think that should mean that they lose an opportunity for exercise and getting together as a community.

“That’s going to knock half our people out, or more than half, and that means we’re going to probably shut down,” Sousares said. “For a center that’s built for our fun and our opportunities, they’re taking them away from us, instead of providing them, and that’s not fair.”

Massie says Parks and Rec has received concerns about the rise in rental rates from a lot of other groups across the city, too. He says staff members are trying to work with the groups to figure out alternatives to leaving their centers, but he also says they won’t budge on the higher rates.

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