CityViews: Residents, Not Investors, Revitalized Mott Haven. Displacement, Not Progress, is What They Fear

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Robert

A mural by Tats Cru Bio, Nicer, and BG183.

In a CityViews piece posted on February 16, 2018 titled “Revitalization, Not Gentrification, is What’s Coming to Mott Haven” the author states that there is a campaign of fear mongering and misinformation when it comes to the topic of gentrification of the area.

Sadly, the only misinformation going around is that very piece written to champion gentrification where it is quite evident that the term means something completely different to the author than what it means in the real world.

Revitalization began decades ago through community based groups throughout the South Bronx even as the fires still continued to burn.

From Banana Kelly in Longwood, who took over buildings the city wanted to demolish during the late 70s but instead rehabilitated them for housing for local residents, to Nos Quedamos in Melrose who battled a city plan to demolish large swaths of the neighborhood and instead created one of the most studied urban renewal and revitalization projects in the country, revitalization was in full swing years before the current crop of private investors turned their attention to those neighborhoods.

Block after block in Mott Haven, where buildings once stood abandoned during the 70s and 80s, were imbued with new life as new families moved in. New single- and multi-family homes went up on formerly vacant lots where weeds and rubble once stood. All of this happened thanks to late New York City Mayor Ed Koch and his administration working together with non-profit and for-profit developers alike which resulted in the creation or rehabilitation of 180,000 units of housing across the city to the cost of over $4 billion dollars of the city’s capital funds.

All of this has been happening over the course of over 40 years, so revitalization is not something new or that’s coming: Revitalization already happened.

And this is where we stand today.The once forgotten, neglected, and left to die borough of The Bronx, rebuilt through the sweat and tears of the residents who refused to leave their homes and neighborhoods, now stands a victim of its own success.The Bronx is no longer, at least to most minds, the scary borough you shouldn’t go to or, *gasp*, live in.

The Bronx is now a place where everyone wants a piece of the action, as evidenced by the grandiose plans for thousands of market-rate waterfront apartments planned by Somerset Partners and The Chetrit Group in Port Morris.

It is a place where market-rate condos on 138th Street are for sale from the mid $400,000s to upwards of $900,000 and, mind you, they are going into contract.

As for the affordable housing going up on 138th Street alongside the market-rate condos the author mentions—the ones that “…community groups and bloggers…purposefully ignore”—well that’s not the case.

What the author conveniently leaves out is that although three of those buildings are “affordable” housing developments, the fact is these units are not intended for local residents who truly need it.

What the author ignores is the fact that the Area Median Income, aka the AMI, used to determine who can live in these buildings shuns the majority of local residents who need such quality and affordable housing the most.

Take The Graham at 255 E 138th Street, which is going up alongside the aforementioned market-rate condo.

The current median income for Mott Haven is $19,400 for a family of four, however, out of 87 units at The Graham, only two units are available that would serve the typical family living in Mott Haven. These two studio units are for individuals making $14,503 to $20,040 a year, which is at 30 percent of the AMI.

A family of four making the median $19,400 cannot qualify for the other Graham units, which are set aside for families at 40 percent, 50 percent, 60 percent, or 100 percent of AMI. For those units, a family of four must make anywhere from $25,166 at the 40 percent bracket to $60,275 at the 100 percent brakcet—the latter of which is three times higher than the neighborhood’s true area median income for a family of four.

Clearly, these units are not affordable to the local residents. Furthermore, the author neglects to mention that even those “affordable” units aren’t permanently rent restricted. Once the restrictions expire, the units can turn into market-rate apartments.

In fact, last year a study released by the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development indicated that, in The Bronx, 7,928 units are eligible to lose their LIHTC (Low Income Housing Tax Credits) between 2017 and 2023. Some 557 of these units are located in Community Board 1, which covers Mott Haven and Melrose, and once they expire, the units are in danger of going market-rate—especially in a hot market like the South Bronx.

These figures don’t include the 6,794 Bronx units that are already known to be at risk of losing federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) subsidies, of which 640 are in Community Board 1. The number of at-risk HUD-subsidized units will certainly have increased with the recent budget cuts by the Trump administration to HUD. According to ANHD, such HUD-assisted households will see an average increase of $890 in their rents in New York State if those cuts go through.

The NYU Furman Center, in a report issued in 2016, identified Mott Haven (along with Port Morris, Melrose, Longwood, and Hunts Point) as a gentrifying area where rents have increased between 2000 and 2010-2014 by 33.2 percent. The report further states that income dropped by 12.6 percent during that same time period.

Those numbers are not describing revitalization. They are indicating gentrification.

Speaking of HUD budget cuts, this brings us to the worries that nearby public housing residents in NYCHA have about being displaced.

We all know that NYCHA is woefully underfunded and the costs to make necessary repairs are astronomical. Those federal cuts will also further weaken public housing in New York City, so although residents have had fears for decades that the “projects” were going to “go condo” and they’d be pushed out, the new proposed budget will not only stoke those fears but push residents closer to reality of being forced out by government designed in simply abandoning funding for public housing.

Not quite sure what NYCHA residents are going to do with new street furniture coming to 138th and 3rd Avenue next to their buildings. Hopefully they won’t have to sleep on it as conditions worsen.

Those in support of gentrification would like you to believe that the neighborhood is simply tabula rasa waiting for developers to build upon it and gentrifiers to “discover” this “new” area but the fact is that Mott Haven and the South Bronx aren’t new and haven’t gone anywhere.

Between Willis Avenue and the Third Avenue Bridge along Bruckner Boulevard, the housing stock is not mostly new as the author describes.

What is new, however, are the businesses in the area that once was known as the antique district of The Bronx, where dozens of shops once catered bargain hunters of such furniture.

Only one antique store remains, as they were pushed out by escalating rents and replaced with galleries and trendy boutiques, cafes and other businesses, several of which are backed by Somerset Partners in an attempt to create a fake community.

These businesses are used as props to lure investors into thinking that the area is the next hip spot but again, this isn’t the case.

The reality is that these businesses are generally empty and if it weren’t for the backing of billionaire developers, they would have been closed by now like any other small business that doesn’t have sufficient foot traffic.

As for the Clock Tower, the building opened up as 95 loft residences in 2002 not less than 10 years ago, as the author claims. This is a building that has an almost 20-year history as a residential building in the area. Back then you could rent units for as low as $900. Now, most of the original pioneering residents have been displaced and who knows what will happen with the building’s new expansion with two new luxury buildings including an indoor swimming pool and rents starting at $1,834 to the low $2,000s for studio units and up to $4, 469 for three-bedroom units.

But that’s not gentrification, is it? Luxury housing in the poorest congressional district in the nation?

Being against gentrification isn’t being against progress or development. It doesn’t mean that one wants to keep a community in so-called poor conditions or its residents in poverty. We are all for uplifting residents from poverty through providing better access to education and training for the necessary skills for higher wage jobs.

No one can argue that mixed-income neighborhoods aren’t a good thing. Having mixed incomes alongside each other with access to the same amenities regardless of socioeconomic background is an ideal but we have yet to figure out how that can be achieved, or rather put into practice, without causing displacement of residents and businesses.

We love our small businesses in The Bronx and support them. Sure, there are several that have been boycotted for various reasons. Some aligned themselves with the very developers that will displace the community that made those business a success. Others have aligned themselves with corporate greed as is the case with FreshDirect’s controversial move to the South Bronx, which brings with it thousands of truck trips through our already congested streets, contributing to the worsening of what are already some of the highest rates of asthma in the nation.

Are we supposed to support such a business simply because it is owned or run by Latinos, as the author writes? The author also forgets to mention that some of these very businesses are being supported directly or indirectly by the developers seeking to change the landscape of the area or they simply are pro-gentrification.

Our small businesses are the backbone of our communities. They are gateways to the middle class for many families and put their owners’ kids through college. A lot of these businesses have disappeared from the area like the antique shops that once dotted Bruckner Boulevard.

But it’s revitalization that’s happening, not gentrification right?

I’ll leave you with the following quote from a Wall Street Journal article that came out last week: “Mott Haven reminds us of SoHo 30 years ago and, similarly, Dumbo 15 years ago,” said Robin Schneiderman, a managing director of Halstead Property Development Marketing.

In a market analysis, Mr. Schneiderman predicted a “rapid gentrification.”

That pretty much sums up what is happening in Mott Haven and it isn’t revitalization. That was phase one, and we’re long past that stage.

Ed García Conde is the founder and editor of Welcome2TheBronx.

23 thoughts on “CityViews: Residents, Not Investors, Revitalized Mott Haven. Displacement, Not Progress, is What They Fear

  1. what do you expect to happen. people are just making investments and betting the neighborhood will get better. if you want to do something about it then raise your own money and buy a property and rent it out to those families being dispalced rather than talk.

  2. You can’t stop gentrification or even easily define it. The Bronx is the last place left to build apartment buildings. Relatively cheap land zoned for apartment construction, many subway lines and property owners who can now sell their homes/land for massive amounts of money.

  3. “Being against gentrification isn’t being against progress or development. It doesn’t mean that one wants to keep a community in so-called poor conditions or its residents in poverty. We are all for uplifting residents from poverty through providing better access to education and training for the necessary skills for higher wage jobs.” Well said …… great article!!!

    • So what does that mean? If they earn more income then prices will go up… Poor people will never just disappear. There will always be poor people. As it stands now – those from the community when they do go to school or get better training – move out of the area.. Why? There is hardly any housing available to them because the low income housing that dominates the area is not available to them. Plenty of Bronx residents are spread all over the suburbs.

  4. When no one invests in the South Bronx people cry “OPPRESSION”
    Investors hit the South Bronx and now people cry “GENTRIFICATION”

    Y’all are never happy!

  5. Gentrification or revitalization the neighborhood is in better shape than it was 20 years ago and it is getting better. That is because of the new people moving in and the new businesses that cater to them.

    I think this Ed Conde has a crab in the barrel mentality. No wonder he has declining readership.

  6. Come on, Mott Haven/Port Morris is practically going through boom times because of these developments.

    The people that lived there before didn’t do much. Look at the condition the neighborhood was in. Investments go a long way. These activists should be thanking developers and real estate types.
    And to boycott businesses is pathetic. I’m sure they are doing just fine without their support.

  7. What Mr. Garcia-Conde also fails to mention is that although the median income of families in Mott Haven is quite low, a large chunk of those folks are already living in public housing and are in no danger of being displaced. Why does new housing need to be marketed and made for people who already live there? Marketing that housing to current residents will do nothing but keep the area as poor as it currently is.

    He claims that “Being against gentrification isn’t being against progress or development.”, and yet, seemingly wants the area to become ‘better’ all while maintaining the same residents. It doesn’t work that way.

  8. Pingback: South Bronx Development: Opposing Views - This Is The Bronx

  9. Excellent 2-sided analysis of the controversy!!!! THIS is the Bronx! Long live the freedom of speech and opinion that will allow us to become whatever…

  10. Los residentes en las comunidades de escasos recursos no se oponen al desarrollo de las mismas siempre y cuando que el desarrollo no condusca al desplasamiento de sus residentes.
    Es muy facil llegar ahora cuando el Bronx se levanto por si solos y de unos pocos invercionistas que creyeron en los residentes de las comunidades del Bronx despues de los 70 con el sudor, sacrificio y muchas lagrimas porque los dueños de los antiguos edificios los abandonaron y quemaron para cobrar los seguros. Los que no conocen el sacrificio no podran entender jamas los que significa la gentrificasion, seguiremos aumentando la RESILENCIA pues somos RESILIENTES desde el momento en que nos gestaron, muchos incredulos piensan y dicen que los residentes de las comunidades de escasos recursos son desventajados, pues se equivocan y no entiende lo que es ser RESILIENTE y mucho menos lo que es el sacrificio. Desventajados, porque? porque tenemos las dos universidades la de la vida porque conocemos las calles y tambien la Universitaria donde vamos muchos de escasos recursos al igual que los mas aventajados economicamente pues esa es la unica ventaja la economica, porque la del sacrificio, resiliencia y empatia sufren en desventaja.

  11. This “author” (Garcia Conde) seemingly wants to hold the Bronx back from evolving and paints a dire picture of so-called “gentrification.” It sure does sound like he is against progress and development by how fixated he is on the past and not having enough foresight to see where the Bronx is heading. There is no evidence for and no reason to believe that current residents will be displaced AND development of the area cannot still take place simultaneously. It would be a shame if developers do not continue to invest in these areas just because someone like this author tries to guilt them and scare them away to fulfill his agenda.

    • No evidence? Clearly you’re not familiar with Chelsea, The East Village, The Lower East Side, East Harlem, Harlem, Williamsburg, Bushwick where residents have been displaced by the same forces at play in the South Bronx now.

  12. Keeping an area strictly for low income people doesn’t work. Never has. The South Bronx absolutely needs both market rate housing and “affordable housing” on the higher end of the AMI spectrum… There are already LOADS of low income housing in the area. That’s called “a ghetto” anywhere in the world. It’s not a healthy scenario.

    • The author was abundantly clear that mixed income neighborhoods are desirable but there is no clear pathway to prevent displacement.

  13. It’s not fair to hang local businesses out to dry for having the audacity to link up with a supermarket chain, the fact is its an industrial zone. That department of sanitation is also located around that area, bringing in countless trucks full of garbage from all over! They can’t be good for asthma rates.

  14. So tired of the crying for more & more low income housing. Look around the area or most of The Bronx. PJ’s dot the area, section 8 in areas that were once mostly stable (Throggs Neck). Now the proliferation of special housing invading the Norwood area. As someone who grew up in The Bronx and spent most of my life there. I’m all for market rate housing. Bring upper / middle class into the area. That will bring discretionary cash into the area.

  15. Conde makes valid points about the lack of affordability. A community is an ecosystem another are many supports needed. Job training, higher wages , schools that are competitive and a population that is committed to maintaining opportunities for a variety of social stratum, Am I being idealistic…absolutely. It’s so easy to complain and no plan is perfect. But we need to start someplace.

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