Some South Bronx residents remain skeptical of the city’s plan to convert a 130-block area along Southern Boulevard into a dazzling new development, insisting that the project will benefit everyone but them.
The city has been conducting an extensive study of the area, highlighted by monthly public meetings at which planners and neighborhood residents exchange ideas about what their future could like if a new plan is implemented. Planners say the project will bring good jobs, better food and a more walkable neighborhood between Longwood and Crotona Park East.
Opponents, however, contend that the city would gentrify the area, raising rents according to the wishes of developers and leading to the displacement of low-income tenants.
Protesters disrupted the latest public informational session at East Bronx Academy in Crotona Park on Apr. 11, at which new affordable housing was the focus, interrupting the discussion inside the building and brandishing protest signs outside.
Prior to the start of the workshop, members of grassroots groups Take Back the Bronx and Hydro Punk rallied outside the school to call attention to their concerns about the rezoning plan. Local groups have regularly crashed rezoning workshops the city has held to discuss the plan.
For Tiara Torres, a member of Hydro Punk, the recent rezoning of northern Manhattan is a cautionary tale. “No matter what the community says, they’re going to run forward with rezonings,” said Torres. “You have seen it in Inwood where the community was largely against rezonings.”
The South Bronx swath is one of several areas around the city targeted by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Housing New York plan, who has said he hopes to create and preserve affordable housing. Some 60,000 residents live in about 170,000 residential units in the neighborhoods that are within the Southern Boulevard area under consideration.
As the workshop was set to begin, an attendee interrupted Department of Housing Preservation and Development project manager Sabrina Bazile.
“Why are we out there living on the street?” said the protester. “And we cannot get affordable housing? I have seen all these buildings go up. Why can’t I get a room?” He said that he submitted applications for affordable housing for two years without success, until BronxWorks helped him find an apartment.
Attendees were shown a video highlighting the history of redlining, then asked to pinpoint three reasons that they live in the area and identify three health concerns they have from living there. When asked if she lived in the area because of its affordability, one attendee, Dariella Rodriguez, was stumped. Rodriguez said she moved to Crotona Park a year ago, after years of being unable to find a place she could afford. She settled for a rental unit she says costs $300 more than what she can afford.
After the workshop had ended, Rodriguez remained unconvinced about its goals, even though she had participated. “It is not a mystery,” she said. “We understand completely our oppression and we are not planning on staying quiet and oppressed, but we also want to be enjoying the results of our hard work and our efforts and our expertise.”
City representatives’ cut short their presentation when the protesters again interrupted. “The solutions are not real solutions to the housing crisis,” one of them said. “We got to do something different.”
The next public session is scheduled for May 9th and will focus on Southern Boulevard’s food landscape. The location will be announced on Department of City Planning’s website.