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Thursday, May 31, 2007

An Offer They Can't Refuse?

Bronx Democratic boss Jose Rivera has invited the top Dem presidential candidates -- Obama, Clinton, and Edwards -- to a June 8 forum on Puerto Rican politics at Hostos Community College.
There was a time in the Bronx when the road to the White House was paved through our fair borough. Candidates didn't need to be invited. They just knew they had to come to Concourse Plaza or some other such venue and kiss the ring of local party honchos.
The Bronx hasn't held the brass ring for presidential aspirants for a few decades at least.
But now that New York has moved up its presidential primary date to early in 2008, and voters will actually get to pick among a large field of candidates, Democratic contenders won't be able to take the Empire State's delegates for granted.

So, it's no coincidence that Rivera is now extending an "invitation" to his fellow Democrats to stop by for a visit. How influential he and our borough are, or are perceived to be, will be determined in the nature of the candidates' RSVP's.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Macombs Dam Curse?

Here's an editorial from the print edition of the Norwood News (hits the streets tomorrow) about the Yankees and their immediate Bronx environs.

The Macombs Dam Curse?

Everyone knows about the Curse of the Bambino – the legend that holds that the Boston Red Sox went 86 years without winning the World Series because they had sold the great Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920. The Yankees, of course, went on to become the greatest franchise in sports history.

But did the Sox throw off their curse onto their pinstriped archrivals?

A precursor of such a curse may have reared its head in the team’s championship drought of the 1980s. In the late 1970s, the team promised money to help fix up the neighborhood in return for a rehab for the House That Ruth Built. The Yanks got their rehab. But the community got shut out. Was the team’s bad luck in the 1980s a warning to the Boss not to ‘dis the Bronx again?

Now, the Yankees are in the basement of the American League East, despite the highest payroll in baseball. What gives?

Might it be the fact that the richest team in sports appropriated a large public park for its new stadium and parking garage, while leaving neighborhood kids — and adults —without a convenient place to run, play ball and just plain recreate?

(Yes, a replacement track is complete and park projects are on the drawing board, but they are a long walk from the affected community, a fact obviously unimportant to the Yankees and the political leaders who enabled their land grab.)

Maybe the destruction of Macombs Dam Park (and part of Mullally Park) are just too serious of an infraction for the baseball gods to ignore.

Filter Plant Finally Gets Full Tabloid Treatment

We've got a story in the print edition of the Norwood News that hits the streets tomorrow about the escalating costs of the filtration plant and Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz's calls for an investigation of the project. But Juan Gonzalez has the story, too, in today's Daily News.
It's a full-page story on p. 8 with a giant photo and dramatic X-ing out of $1.3 and $2.1 billion projected price tags. "The $2.8 billion Hole?" the headline blares. (The Web version of the headline just doesn't get the message across the same way -- it leaves out the 1.3 and the 2.1.)
Almost all filtration stories in the Daily News over the past several years have been relegated to the "Metro" page, buried in the middle of the paper, that only outerborough readers get to see. The play they've given Gonzalez' column today, however, is likely to make a few waves.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Monitor's Out

The latest edition of the bilingual Mount Hope Monitor has been published. Stories include a look at how repairs are coming along (or not coming along as the case seems to be) at 1749 Grand Concourse, following a deadly fire in the 278-unit apartment building on April 8. Nilsa Rivera, the president of the building's tenant association, says the tenants feel like they've been forgotten.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sound Familiar?

Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz, is being accused of pushing out several long-serving community board members because of their opposition to the borough's Atlantic Yards development - a project Markowitz, says the New York Times, "has spent three years and much of his political capital extolling."

Last summer, you may recall, Adolfo Carrión, Markowitz's Bronx counterpart, was accused of the very same thing, namely removing Bronx Community Board 4 members who opposed the new Yankee Stadium. The Village Voice also picked up the story.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Another Reprieve for Gonzalez

Legally-embattled State Senator Efrain Gonzalez will enjoy at least six more months of innocence when a federal judge in Manhattan recently set his trial date for Nov. 26 .

Gonzalez faces nine separate counts ranging from mail fraud to embezzlment for allegedly funneling more than $400,000 in government grants (known as member items), through three non-profits, back into his own pocket.

For a round-up on the whole sordid saga, check out this story.

Recently, Gonzalez has been very visible in Norwood, having attended a Community Night Out event last Thursday and a press conference the week before, to speak out about youth violence in the wake of the shootings at Tracey Towers on May 4.

West Bronx Housing

There's an interesting piece in today's New York Times about 1520 Sedgwick Avenue - a building widely seen as the birthplace of hip-hop. According to the Times, the building's landlord has recently opted out of the state's Mitchell-Lama Housing program, which will allow them to charge higher rents.

This part of Morris Heights has increasing home-ownership, and many buildings - including this one - have views of the Harlem River, the High Bridge, and Washington Heights. When you take into account the plans to renovate the Harlem River waterfront, not to mention the unprecedented development going on one mile south of the neighborhood (the new Yankee Stadium, the redevelopment of the Bronx Terminal Market), it's easy to see why landlords are getting excited.

Still, the west Bronx remains one of the cheapest (the cheapest?) places in the rent and to buy. On Sunday there was this article about buying in Highbridge, where house-hunters, priced out of Harlem and Inwood, can still find one-bedroom apartments for less than $100,000.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Finally a little good news on water front

The fines the federal government has been imposing on DEP (and hence water rate payers) should hopefully stop now that a new main contractor is supposedly in place at the filtration plant. A Swedish construction company, Skanska, has announced on its website, that it will be constructing the plant for $1.04 billion (the total contract amount is $1.3 billion, of which Skanska has 80% and Tully Construction has the remaining 20%).

According to the press release:

The project starts later this summer. Construction work is scheduled to be
completed in 50 months and the start-up phase is expected to take an additional
six months. This is Skanska’s largest project ever in the U.S. The second
largest is the New Meadowlands Stadium being built for the New York Jets and New
York Giants. This contract amount is USD 998 M.

In other news, NYC Comptroller William Thompson has submitted a letter to the Water Board showing how projected rate hikes can be lowered by adjusting how the City uses the rental payment it received from DEP -- part as "pay as you go" captial financing and the other part as a return to rate payers. While it won't drop future rate hikes much, it's a step in the right direction, and will probably have better results in the long run.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Updates ...

Jim Dwyer adds his two cents to Wayne Barrett's Village Voice piece on the meaning of the Yankees World Series rings former mayor Rudy Giuliani scored.

And Juan Gonzalez weighs in on the controversy concerning the new 14-hour Ken Burns documentary on World War II set to air on PBS this fall. Gonzalez looks at Burns' prior work on his epic 'Jazz' and 'Baseball' documentaries and quotes a New School music professor who calls Burns "a serial eraser of Latinos."

Suspicious Fire Guts Jerome Avenue Stores

A three-alarm fire, which fire officials are calling suspicious, destroyed four Jerome Avenue stores in the early hours of Sunday morning.
“I feel devastated,” said one store owner. “That was my livelihood, my bread and butter. It’s all gone and left me to start from zero.”
More in the Mount Hope Monitor. (Photo by James Fergusson)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Dress for Success

The second print edition of the bilingual Mount Hope Monitor is being published next week. Stories will include this profile of the only Bronx-based branch of Dress for Success, an international non-profit that promotes economic independence by providing women with free business attire for job interviews. It's written by Cindy Lau, a Hunter University student, who is interning at IPA-New York.
The paper will be dropped off at local schools, businesses, and community organizations. If you can't find it, though, or don't live in the area, e-mail your address to mounthopenews(at)gmail.com and we'll send you a copy for free, while supplies last. (Photo by Cindy Lau)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Rudy's Rings

The Village Voice's Wayne Barrett discovers that the Bronx Bombers gave former mayor Rudy Giuliani 4 World Series rings, worth a total of at least $200,000. He explores the legal and political implications.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Norwood News On-Line

The latest edition of the Norwood News is on-line.
Stories include: Precinct's new quality of life unit; Restaurant shut down for drug dealing -- reopens next day; Chancellor promotes school system overhaul and much more ...

Introducing Guest Blogger

Time to take care of some housekeeping.

Close readers of this blog will notice a recent prolific poster named Gregory Lobo Jost. Greg is our first guest blogger. There are so many experts all around us in the Bronx on so many important issues. We thought the West Bronx Blog would be much a richer forum if, in addition to reporters from West Bronx News Network publications, people like Greg had the opportunity to share with us what they know and point us to news and information sources we might otherwise miss. That's already been the case with Greg.

Greg is deputy director of University Neighborhood Housing Program (UNHP), a 24-year-old nonprofit dedicated to creating, preserving and financing affordable housing in the northwest Bronx through organizing, lending, research and providing technical assistance. He graduated from Fordham with a bachelor's degree in urban studies and a master's in Humanities and Sciences with a concentration on social justice issues. He lives in Norwood with his wife, Sandra and daughter, Amelia.

Daily News Digs into Filter Plant Bid Fiasco

Bill Egbert of the Daily News does some digging and finds more details on why a deal with a consortium to build the filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park went sour. Cost was not cited as a factor in a letter from Consortium leader Perini Corp., but rather "attendant circumstances." According the article, filings with the Security and Exchange Commission show that Perini is the subject of an investigation relating to "its contracting with disadvantaged, minority and women-owned businesses ..."

One question: Why does the Daily News consistently relegate hard news like this to its "Metro News" page, which often isn't available to Manhattan readers, and even some of the other boroughs? The filtration plant is hardly just a local issue. Croton water supplies parts of Manhattan and more in times of drought. And all city water rate payers are footing the bill for the mounting fines the federal government is levying on the city for failing to seal the deal on a plant construction contract by the Feb. deadline.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Con Ed teams up with DEP in rate hikes

So, Con Ed is following DEP's lead and also requesting a steep rate hike that would also cause total bills to increase about eleven and a half percent. The electricity increase, at 17% for residential customers and 10.7% for businesses, would go into effect next April. Here's the Times article on it.
And don't forget about who has the worst electricity network in the city (see right)...

The Times article also references Bloomberg's response to the water rate hikes:

Mayor Bloomberg, in his weekly radio call-in appearance on WABC-AM, defended the water rate increase yesterday.

“The Department of Environmental Protection is a pretty good agency, efficient, needs to keep making investments, and fixing and building,” Mr. Bloomberg said, “and we need those things, and somebody’s got to pay.”

Let's discuss this a little more in-depth, Mayor. DEP may be a pretty good agency overall, but they are certainly not efficient when it comes to billing issues, and hence collections. And why should rate payers be the only ones paying for capital improvements to the water that everyone uses (including commuters who use the city's water all day long)? And why does the city need the rental payment from DEP for use of the tunnels/infrastructure?

Saturday, May 5, 2007

PBS Rebuffs Latino Pols on World War II Documentary

Following up on our earlier post about Latino state legislators from the Bronx and the rest of NYC demanding that PBS include the contributions of Latino Americans in a 14-hour Ken Burns documentary about World War II, the network has ruled out changing the film, citing its concerns about editorial independence and "federal interference in content," according to an article today in The New York Times.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has also been active in pressuring PBS to include the Latino perspective. Burns originally offered to include Latino stories in a supplemental segment by a Latino filmmaker to be aired following his film, but that didn't assuage the critics.

Burns ruled out any changes to his film. “It would be destructive, like trying to graft an arm onto your child,” he told the Times.“It would destroy the film.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Noteworthy Bronx Beat articles

The Bronx Beat's most recent edition has a few noteworthy articles in it:

Water rate hike will drip residents dry has a great graphic showing water rates as a percentage of household income in various cities across the country, as well as the Bronx.

Money dwindles for green roofs highlights some of the work of Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation.

Where Will New York's Working Poor Live?

As the New York City Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) begins to debate how much more the millions of tenants who are protected by rent stabilization laws will be paying when leases come due next year, they will be factoring some interesting and conflicting data (see this article from last week's Times). The RGB's staff puts out a few reports each year to help inform the debate on how much rents should go up, and the Income and Affordability Study released last month reveals that while the NYC economy is strong, incomes among rent stabilized tenants are stagnating (i.e., the rich are getting richer and the poor are... you know the rest). After first citing "increasing Gross City Product, falling unemployment rates and public assistance cases, and increasing employment levels," it then acknowledges "an increase in the number of food stamp recipients... falling real wages and escalating gross rent-to-income ratios."

Last week the RGB staff released the Income and Expense Study which analyzes income, rent and operating cost figures of rent stabilized buildings (where most of the working poor live). This year's study showed that, adjusted for inflation, New York City rent stabilized buildings are 12.3% less profitable in 2005 (most recent data) than they were in 1989. (By borough, buildings in Queens are up 18%, Brooklyn is up 2%, Manhattan is down 11% and Bronx properties are down 39% including a drop of 4.7% in past year alone.)

So why, if buildings are less profitable now, do they continue to sell for near-record prices, even in the Bronx? One reason is that many new owners of rental property in New York are working from the business model that counts on rents rising dramatically over the next decade. Backed by deep pockets (i.e., Real Estate Investment Trusts), these owners can afford to take short term losses while they try to push the rents up as much as possible. They can speed the process along by performing major capital improvements to apartments (sometimes questionable), getting low-rent tenants to move out (i.e., harassment), and lobbying the Rent Guidelines Board for higher rent increases each year. With the dramatic rise in operating costs (e.g., fuel, insurance, water) outpacing building incomes, they will have some ammunition on their side.

But the flip side is the data that shows that wages are not going up for working class New Yorkers. In the west and south Bronx neighborhoods, the last expanse of the City where the working poor can "afford" to live, residents typically pay half of their income on rent (the median percent of income spent on rent in some Bronx neighborhoods is close to 50%). Further rent increases without a corresponding rise in incomes will force many of these families to either double-up (not without consequences), leave the City, or go homeless (as families are doing in record numbers).

A recent report by University Neighborhood Housing Program, entitled Shrinking Affordability: Housing Prices, Quality and Preservation in the City's Last Expanse of Affordable Private Rental Housing, documents how rising rents and gentrification pressures in traditionally low and moderate income neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens and Upper Manhattan are forcing more and more of the working poor to the west Bronx, where rents are the lowest in the City. This increased demand for housing in the Bronx has allowed landlords to pursue more aggressive rent increases and eviction proceedings, forcing many tenants to make tough choices (e.g., pay the rent or buy Christmas presents for the kids, sublet a room to another family or move to New Jersey). And once the relatively affordable housing stock of west Bronx is gone, where will the working poor New Yorkers who make the City a real city go?

As always, there will be a battle between tenant and landlord interests as the Rent Guidelines Board makes its decision this year. As they analyze the various reports (including DMI's report on Saving Our Middle Class), we can only hope that the current Board thinks about the long term implications of affordability for the people that make New York the great city that it is.

This entry is also posted on the Drum Major Institute blog.