Residents organize against proposed rezonings

Change in the South Bronx, and pressure on local renters, was the theme at a panel discussion on March 30.

Panelists discuss the city’s proposed changes to Bronx neighborhoods.

Change is coming to the South Bronx and local residents are concerned that they will be left out of the planning process and displaced from their own neighborhoods. That was the tone of a discussion and a panel on March 30 at the East Bronx Academy for the Future, where residents, experts and community activists discussed both the Jerome Avenue rezoning, which stretches for more than two miles north of Yankee Stadium. They also fear a Southern Boulevard rezoning just north of Longwood, though the city has not yet formally proposed one.

The panel included:
• Jose Rodriguez, member of the Banana Kelly Resident Council and Picture the Homeless
• Tom Angotti, professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at the City University of New York
• Carmen Vega-Rivera, a community leader for Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA), steering member of the Bronx Coalition for A Community Vision
• Rebecca Rosado, program manager for A.C.T.I.O.N. (Activist Coming To Inform Our Neighborhood) at The Point CDC
• Kerry McLean, vice president of community development at WHEDco
• Wanda Salaman, executive director of Mothers on the Move

The proposed Jerome Avenue rezoning would stretch from McClellan Street to East 184th Street. It would also include six train stations along the 4 line: 183rd Street, Burnside Avenue, 176th Street, Mt. Eden Avenue, 170th Street and 167th Street. The goal, according to City Planning, is to study “community needs” and to build more “affordable housing.” But residents see that as a smoke screen, and instead worry that the opportunity for development will create a market for higher-priced housing.

“The zoning will be detrimental to our community. We are facing displacement,” said Vega-Rivera. When Vega-Rivera and other concerned residents learned of the Jerome Avenue rezoning in late 2014, they formed the Bronx Coalition for A Community Vision to ensure there would be community input.

“Now the neighborhood is more attractive to others,” said McLean. She insisted that the work of community activists was done to improve the lives of residents in the neighborhood — not for potential gentrifiers.

Other community activists like Rosado felt Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent announcement to convert the Sheridan Expressway into a boulevard hijacked community plans and failed to acknowledge the work the community had been working towards. “In that announcement, it’s really important that we recognize that they’re taking credit for work that community activists have been working on for over 20 years. All their ideas. All those concepts. Those were things that we worked on, this community worked on,” said Rosado.

The demolition and conversion of the Sheridan Expressway will play out alongside the the proposed Southern Boulevard rezoning, which extends from East 163rd Street to East 176th Street covering much of Crotona Park East.

Though the proposed Jerome Avenue and Southern Boulevard rezonings do not include Hunts Point proper, locals here are still concerned that development pressures in neighboring communities will spill over.

“We have land speculation and real estate speculation. We’re worried there as well,” said Angela Tovar, director of program development at The Point CDC.

Marilyn Johnson has lived in the Crotona Park East area for more than 30 years and said while her landlord has reassured her that her rent will not increase, she remains unconvinced. The landlord has been making improvements to the apartments, such as installing new kitchen exhaust hoods and adding new cabinets. “I’ve seen a lot of changes,” she said.

Under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent housing regulations, all areas rezoned for residential development must include a certain percentage of affordable housing. But many of the residents and panelists questioned what affordable really meant for a community where the median household income is $20,000.

“Mandatory Inclusionary Housing is not truly affordable,” said Angotti. “It’s not affordable because they use as its criterion a region-wide measure of income, and our neighborhood incomes are much lower.”

Southern Boulevard Neighborhood Study

Currently, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing does not provide affordable housing for those who make less than 40 percent of the area median income (AMI), which according to the New York City Department of Housing Preservation is:
• less than $36,240 for a family of four
• less than $32,640 for a family of three
• less than $29,000 for a family of two
• less than $25,400 for an individual

The panelists encouraged Johnson and other concerned residents to take a stand by working together and becoming more engaged in the community. A march is currently being planned for later this spring to ensure that the community’s demands are met.

“We are not saying that we do not want change within our community,” said Vega-Rivera. “What we are saying is that the change should be for our community, and not those that want to come in.”

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