Bronx BP Disses Anarchists and Gives a New View on Gentrification

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Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. talks with Mayor de Blasio in this file photo. According to Diaz, there's disagreement about what shape the mayor's housing plan should take in the Bronx—and Diaz's view is the right one.

Diana Robinson for the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. talks with Mayor de Blasio in this file photo. According to Diaz, there's disagreement about what shape the mayor's housing plan should take in the Bronx—and Diaz's view is the right one.

The gentrification debate usually revolves around the idea that new, more affluent people are coming and current, less wealthy residents might be being driven away.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. doesn’t see it that way.

For him, new development—even of subsidized housing open only to people with relatively high incomes—is about retaining an incumbent population of professionals in the Bronx who now live in apartments that are cheaper than they need because they lack other options in the borough.

And it’s also about slapping “anarchists” around. At least that’s how Diaz pitched it to a room of housing advocates and developers at the New York Housing Conference’s annual symposium on Wednesday.

Diaz was joined on the dais by Rafael Cestero, a former city housing commissioner, and Daniel Hernandez, who currently works for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The two men talked about the importance—and challenges—of a multiagency approach to housing development that schedules infrastructure investments so that the new parks, schools and bus lines are in place when the new residential units come on line.

Process, the two stressed, is so important. Diaz agreed. A good process, he said, helped you to “weed out the anarchists.”

“Let’s face it, there are people who want the Bronx to stay the way it was in the 1990s*. There’s a handful of them,” Diaz said. “They don’t represent the community.”

Pointing to the Yankee Stadium redevelopment, where indications are that no major displacement has occurred, Diaz said: “We don’t subscribe to the notion that gentrification has to be about pushing one community out to bring another one in.”

“I strongly believe that there is a population of professionals and skilled workers in the Bronx that if we don’t give them what they want they are going to leave,” trapping the Bronx in its place as the borough with the highest poverty “because they take their employment status and their salaries with them,” Diaz added.

Census data suggests Diaz is right that there is a growing professional-level population in his borough. From 2005 to 2013, the share of Bronx households making less than $15,000 fell from 30 percent to 26 percent, while the number making more than $100,000 rose from 15 percent to 20 percent. The brackets in between barely changed.

But the Bronx also leads the city in sending families to the city’s homeless shelters, hinting that its housing needs are not exclusively at the high end.

“What the community needs to understand in my borough is that while you have professional naysayers, you can’t always address everything with emotion,” Diaz continued Wednesday. “You can’t just always just shout ‘No! No! No! No!’ when a city agency brings you down to the table and asks you what you want [you say nothing.]”

“Look,” continued Diaz. “It’s happening. It’s happening. It’s happening. This is real. Ten years from now it’s changing. It’s happening” and if a community group doesn’t articulate a real vision “you’ll be left in the dark. You’ll be left in the cold and you’ll be chanting and screaming ‘What’s happening?'”

Diaz, of course, was depicted as a naysayer himself for opposing the 2009 deal that would have developed a mall in the long-dormant Kingsbridge Armory; Diaz said “no” because the scheme lacked a living-wage clause. He later nurtured the current plan for the site, which includes extensive community benefits and living wages, though for a smaller number of jobs than promised in the ’09 approach.

* Editor’s Note: Diaz’s office insists he said 1990s, not 1950s as I reported earlier.

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  • NYC, home of the comfortable divide. Where since inflation can’t be beat only the strong survive. Theoretically ethical?

  • Baychester Bully

    He is absoloutly right, how can this borough survive if there is no place to live for the people who actually work for a living? Bronxites who make a nice income should be able to live here, after all they actually worked for it.

    • Insufficient Fare

      “Who actually work for a living”

      Because the rest of us don’t. Even people on gov. assistance have to work, it pays 1/3rd of your bills, stupid. I would know, because I’m a college student on gov. assistance and I STILL HAVE TO BUST MY BUTT AND WORK.

      • Baychester Bully

        Well I hope for your sake you’re majoring in something useful so you won’t have to be on public assistance your whole life. I rather my tax dollars go to police salary, not your EBT card.

        • Insufficient Fare

          Well I hope for your sake you actually do something like read a book, so you won’t have to be a dumbass your whole life. I’d rather my tax dollars go to my EBT card, not police salary.

          • realposter

            “I’d rather my tax dollars go to my EBT card, not police salary”…

            Then you would fit in the category of those who want the BX to be as it was in the 90’s… I can remember being in that time. I can recall times of seeing police laugh at people threatening to kill other people in the street… In those days the BX had a homicide rate not too far off from Washington DC… Which means much higher than Chicago or Philly right now.

      • MissionControl

        I hope you do. Others have before you and will after you. Be grateful for what you get from others(government) and if it all makes it possible for you succeed then give thanks all around.

        • Insufficient Fare

          I am grateful and it does help. Took over a year of me not having insurance, paying for food and then rent before I even got approved for food stamps, but it’s one less bill I have to worry about. I’m also grateful they pay my tuition for school. Life is hard.

      • realposter

        I would assume he’s talking about people who don’t work or who do so minimally to extract from the system…. There are some people who can work hard but will never pass a certain stage – but that’s not who the beef is with. Some people can’t pay rent but can drink liquor and smoke weed everyday… Some people can’t afford a metro card but have brand new name-brand sneakers…

        • Insufficient Fare

          What I’m saying is, there is no “miminal”. For example, I’m in the process of cash assistance since I lost my job. It only gives me 1/3 of my rent so I have to find the other elsewhere. As far as the other things you mentioned, it’s not that they can’t pay for those things. It’s just bad money management. They still have to pay those things. They just never progress financially because they don’t know how to save. How many people in the hood have good money management? Not many…But he sounds salty at people who receive benefits so he wants to group everyone. Not everyone sits on their a$$. People are going through real Ish man, it’s hard out here as a bottom dweller….

          • realposter

            No – it’s not about “people in the hood” not having good money management. People of all economic classes go bankrupt for different reasons… A lot of rich and middle class people have terrible credit ratings just because they didn’t pay their bills on time.
            I grew up with guys who did 15 years – and some still into a 30 year sentence. If they were law abiding they could have been great business men. A lot of it was just choices and mindset.
            Conversely I know people who owned houses and make over 100k per year – lost their job and had to use food stamps…. That’s not the people I’m referring. I’m referring to those who just want to leach the system. I didn’t say you were one either.

  • danielmillstone

    Either this event was confused & confusing or the report is. What higher income affordable housing program is in the works? Who is Mr. Diaz calling “anarchists”? does he have some group(s) in mind? As prices of Bronx apartments and houses rise (as they seem to have been doing), where will the current residents go?

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  • Geringswald1

    I work for an agency in the South Bronx helping seniors and we are seeing a lot of them become homeless due to the higher rents here in the Bronx. We get the ads from the HPD website so we can help them fill out applications. What is so called “affordable housing” really isn’t for our senior population. Some get SS or SSI checks for about $800 per month. This totals $9,600 per year. These so called “low income” apartments are for people earning over $20,000 a year and up. So if our older adult client lives alone, he/she would never be able to afford this. Even a married couple each receiving $800 per month cannot afford it. I totally agree with Mr. Diaz. He has been a great BP and loves the Bronx seniors.

  • Insufficient Fare

    Pimping Rueben still at it, I see.

  • Ginette

    It is so unnecessary and stupid to comment/debate about people that work or don’t and EBT cards. That is so irrelevant to the real issues. We are living in an unfair economic world. We are all or will be struggling in one way or another. There’s an overwhelming amount of privatization and the rich becoming richer; Even the middle class is finding themselves in dis-pair. What the borough President needs to focus on rent hikes, buildings owned by landlords who do not maintain the buildings, and rents that raised because of a new development in the community. The cost of living goes up, rent goes up, corporations continue to profit off the working people but living wages stay the same. I am a working mother. My husband is a working father, many of my friends and family are as well. We are all professionals and skilled in a particular field. Not all of them want to move out of the Bronx. In fact, they have respect and are dedicated to helping improve. I don’t want the Bronx to stay looking like the 90s. What i want is for the Bronx to not be the forgotten borough anymore. Not for someone elses profit but so we can together equally generate wealth, share and sustain it for future generations. The Borough President is delusional if he is trying to redefine the meaning of gentrification with that plan and agenda. I can point out other things in our neighborhood he pays no mine to that if he did may help more. NOT Every Vision and Plan is a Good One and Intended for All.

    • realposter

      Most people I know who were born and raised in The Bronx and went away to college never went back. Why? Most say they can’t get the type of housing there new level of income brings them… Or they say there is too much of a “ghetto mentality” that they don’t want to be associated with. It’s not about gentrification… It’s about the fact that when those people don’t return – it keeps the majority as uneducated – which causes social ills. It’s the same issue with many countries that have high rates of migration of their educated populace.

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