The Bronx is building — or at least that’s the plan.
City Limits has identified dozens of addresses being eyed for housing development in the Bronx. They’re shown in the map above.
Some are under-used lots owned by the city’s department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD), which is seeking developers for at least 25 of them to build 100 percent affordable housing. Some were pinpointed as possible sites for affordable housing in an advisory document created by the office of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and passed on to the mayor and city housing agencies last winter, and others are already being marketed for their affordable housing potential.
Though Diaz has no formal role in choosing the sites that will make up the mayor’s ambitious to build or preserve nearly 200,000 units of affordable housing, he has taken early steps to insert himself into the process and has emphasized what power he does have over building in the borough.
He likened his build green edict to “an executive order” and says he holds sway over developers who need an address for a new structure, who want to build on city land or who request capital funding for their projects.
“We use that as leverage,” he said in front of a group of architects and developers on a tour of the Bronx last fall.
When it comes to the mayor’s housing plan, Diaz’s rundown includes a crop of HPD-owned sites in addition to the ones for which the city is seeking developers. It lists vacant lots and parcels identified as underutilized by HPD, as well as privately owned parcels where the beep nevertheless sees room to build. HPD says it is currently in talks with some of the private owners.
Diaz’s report doesn’t just point to individual properties but entire swaths of the borough being eyed for rezoning, like the controversial Jerome Avenue project on a 73-block stretch that spans the avenue from Mullaly Park north across the Cross Bronx Expressway to just south of Fordham Road. The area is now the subject of a neighborhood study by the Department of City Planning. Less defined areas for potential rezoning are Tremont/Crotona, Concourse Village, around Metro-North stations in Tremont and Fordham and proposed stations in Hunts Point, Morris Park and Parkchester.
Diaz’s plan for development in the borough includes the Harlem River waterfront from Third Avenue to 149th Street. In recent comments, he called the stretch from 138th to 149th streets “the next frontier of high-rise development,” and pointed to the 161st Street corridor, the southern portion of the Grand Concourse and up-zoned parts of Webster Avenue, Fordham and White Plains roads as places where new development could thrive—even dazzle.
If a listing for 320 Fordham Road is any indication, real estate forces are getting on board with the borough president’s vision for both the waterfront and the borough’s growing housing potential. The waterfront site in University Heights called Fordham Landing is being marketed by Massey Knakal for $29 million and offers close to 1 million square feet of residential development.
The bulk of addresses on the borough president’s list are concentrated in the South Bronx, where the borough’s poverty is most pronounced. Diaz’s office says that’s because land is cheaper and more plentiful in the south.
“Our office is actively engaged with the de Blasio administration and the appropriate agencies on their housing plan, and we have submitted numerous potential sites to this administration for consideration for future development. These include the Harlem River waterfront and the potential decking of three borough train yards, as well as other sites across the Bronx,” said John De Sio, communications director for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., in a statement. “We are committed to helping to keep this borough and this city affordable, and the development of new, affordable housing of all kinds is a major component of that goal.”
De Sio says Diaz would stick with funding housing projects serving households making between 30 percent and 110 percent of Area Median Income, a range that encompasses $2,5150 to $90,612 for a family of four. He adds that while there may be some wiggle room on the high end, 30 percent AMI Is the lowest income level for which capital funds can be used.
Not all new housing would be income-targeted: Borough Hall also recently pitched building housing above train yards, including two in the Northwest Bronx, but did not bill it as “affordable.” Still, the real-estate brokerage Massey Knakal/Cushman & Wakefield, which has several sites listed on its website that could be used for affordable housing, is certainly peddling the borough’s potential in the affordable housing arena.
“With Manhattan sites fetching $500 to $800 per [base semi finished] and prime Brooklyn/Queens between $200 & $300, the Bronx is an increasingly attractive market for both public and private housing developers and one that will likely become even more popular as the new administration strives to reach its housing targets,” the Fordham Landing listing boasts.
But Tom Angotti, professor of urban affairs and planning at Hunter College and a former senior planner with the city, warns that city officials must not think in terms of quotas, but rather in terms of communities, when planning affordable housing.
“Their vision is to build housing, 200,000 units of affordable housing and there’s talk about community, but so far it’s a numbers game. And in fact they’re putting their foot forward first with these rezonings, in East New York and in the South Bronx. What that really does is put new market rate development first,” he says, noting that even proposed rezonings can reinforce a “speculative land-buying frenzy.”
He argues that government should not be in the business of identifying points on map as development opportunities without considering whether communities can sustain and support new housing.
“Then you’re thinking like a real estate developer and not like a public agency,” he says.
This story first appeared on City & State, with which City Limits is partnering to cover crucial housing policy stories in 2015.
City Limits coverage of the Bronx is supported by the New York Community Trust.