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Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone!
We look forward to an even more robust discussion of Bronx issues in 2008!
Keep commenting and keep letting us know how we can do better.
Jordan Moss and the whole West Bronx New Network team

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Talk About a Fixer Upper ...

Front page of the New York Times Home section from Wed. features the incredible story of this mansion in Mount Hope and the brave family that is moving in and rehabbing it. (NYT photo by Christian Hansen)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Times City Section Cuts Reader Views

As if the City Section of the New York Times was not a small enough sop to readers looking for coverage of New York City issues, the Gray Lady is diminishing, and maybe cutting off altogether, even just the opportunity for Bronxites and other New Yorkers to write letters to the editor or opinion pieces for the section. In “A Note to Readers” last Sunday, the editors wrote that editorials and Op-Ed articles “that have been appearing on this page will no longer be published in this section. Letters will appear elsewhere in this section.” We are not told, however, where the editorials and op-eds will be published, if not in the section itself.

We called the number the Times provided and the person who answered the phone said that editorials and opinion pieces would be published occasionally depending on “interest.” Letters would be treated the same way, she said, even though the editor’s note implied they’d be published regularly elsewhere in the section.

Those who have lived in the Bronx a while might remember the struggle to simply get the City section delivered to Bronx homes instead of, or in addition to, the Westchester section. That took a letter writing campaign.

Maybe another letter-writing campaign is necessary to demonstrate to the Times that actually having an opinion about New York City issues and letting New Yorkers write back to offer their own views on important policy issues, is what a newspaper – particularly a section supposedly oriented toward communities – is all about.

--Jordan Moss and Dart Westphal

Thursday, December 27, 2007

‘Impact’ Expanded, But Do Results Last?

The New York Times reports that Operation Impact, an NYPD initiative that floods high-crime areas with rookie officers, has been renewed and expanded. In addition to several neighborhoods in Brooklyn, communities in all three precincts served by the West Bronx News Network — the 44th, 46th and 52nd precincts — are all getting Impact deployments.

The piece is a lengthy 1,530 words but doesn’t ask or even allude to the most obvious questions, namely:

-Do neighborhoods where Impact has resulted in lower crime rates maintain those lower rates after the contingent of Impact officers moves on?

-Is there a correlation between Impact and the overall decrease in city crime rates? Yes, crime rates — particularly homicide rates — are at a historic low. And yes, of course crime in neighborhoods with Impact deployments see a drastic reduction. That doesn’t necessarily mean the two are related.

There are no perspectives from neighborhoods that have already had Impact. Are they better off since Impact left, worse off, the same?

The 52nd Precinct is well acquainted with Impact, particularly in the community just above Fordham Road east of the Grand Concourse. This community has also been the site of a Model Block program several years ago, and several other police initiatives that differed in tactics but were similarly short-lived.

Citywide crime statistics, and even precinct-wide stats, are not very useful in judging whether the effects of Impact last in the sectors of a precinct where it operated. Analyzing sector-level crime statistics before, during and after Impact would be useful.

We’ll see if we can fill in some of these gaps in an upcoming issue of the Norwood News.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Real Help for Bronx Homeowners on the Way!

Opinion from Guest Blogger Gregory Lobo Jost
Nearly two years ago at a forum on the State of Homeownership in the Bronx, University Neighborhood Housing Program called on the City and bank partners to expand their pilot foreclosure prevention on 311 program citywide. Finally, in early 2008, thay day will arrive, and it will benefit Bronx homeowners (and their neighbors) tremendously.

Earlier this month, the Mayor, City Council and NEDAP announced the Center for NYC Neighborhoods (CNYCN), a new nonprofit entity that will "fund a major expansion and coordination of counseling and referral services, legal assistance, loan remediation, preventive outreach and education, training, research and advocacy around sub-prime lending and mortgage foreclosures."

The reason that this program offers real help for homeowners is not just that it streamlines the process onto 311, but that it provides resources for existing counseling agencies to expand their work, hire new counselors, and funds legal assistance for homeowners throughout the five boroughs. The $1 million from HPD and $1.8 million from the City Council will be the base of the organization's $5.3 million budget for its first year, with financial and philanthropic donations making up the remainder. These resources will allow counseling groups to take on more volume instead of turning people away who need the help. Instead of another hotline referring distressed homeowners to the same over-strapped groups, CNYCN will offer real assistance for New York's homeowners and neighborhoods.

For the Bronx, this assistance comes not a moment too soon. For years, the only homeowner counseling group in the Bronx had been Neighborhood Housing Services of the North Bronx, where one counselor had been responsible for foreclosure prevention for an entire borough. Recently, through a City Council earmark, the Neighborhood Initiatives Development Corporation (NIDC) took on homeowner counseling, but their counselor also can't handle the volume.

Thanks to CNYCN, more counselors will be on the way, placed at these groups and/or other organizations. In addition, UNHP's Eric Fergen will be leaving the Bronx where he has been performing outreach, intake and referrals for homeowners for the past two and a half years. A centralized system on 311 with adequate counseling resources on the back end will help fill the gap, especially for homeowners in the West Bronx where none of the counseling groups are located.

Importantly, the new center will also fund legal assistance throughout the City, including attorneys placed in the Bronx. They will help handle the volume of homeowners that were victims of predatory lending and other scams such as deed theft.

The Center for NYC Neighborhoods will hopefully put all of the pieces together quickly so that it can officially launch and operate in early 2008. Until then, Bronx homeowners can still call 311 for a referral to a counseling agency, but it could be difficult to receive assistance until the new counselors come in. If you can't get assistance from a local group, there is also a national hotline that may be able to help you (1-888-995-HOPE), although they don't provide legal assistance.

But help is on the way!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

News Roundup December 18

The Daily News has several interesting Bronx-related stories today.

First is this article about last week's rally and press conference at City Hall, at which residents, education advocates, and local elected officials gathered to demand a new middle school in Highbridge.

Next, this story is hardly a new one, but it's noteworthy nonetheless: Bill Egbert reports on the fact that opponents of the new Yankee Stadium project feel that many of the new facilities they are getting as part of the project can hardly be deemed "replacements" for parks destroyed to build the stadium: The article points out that there is a difference between new athletic facilities and new parkland.

And, 40 years after founding the Southeast Bronx Community Organization (SEBCO), Fr. Louis R. Gigante is retiring as president (he will continue to serve as chairman). Gigante will be replaced by Bronx resident Peter Cantillo.

Finally, check out this Highbridge Horizon online exclusive: After months of work, Highbridge resident José Gonzalez showed off the trailer for his documentary, "Highbridge: Past, Present, and Future". When finished, the film is slated to be a three-part feature tracing the history of the neighborhood from the 1600s all the way up to the present.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bronx News Roundup Dec. 17

Yesterday's Times looked at the deplorable living conditions inside 1277 Morris Ave., where tenants have been living for months without heat and hot water. The building was recently named and shamed by HPD as one of the city's most poorly maintained buildings.

Also in Sunday's Times, the wider implications of the foreclosure crisis. David Gonzalez reports that businesses on a Boston Road commercial strip are beginning to suffer, as homeowners cut their spending in a desperate attempt to keep up with spiralling loan repayments. More on the Bronx's subprime disaster here and here.

Cops have identified two men wanted for a string of violent bodega robberies, including last week's hold-up of a Davidson Avenue store, in which a 24-year-old man was shot and seriously injured.

A Bronx man who tried to murder his estranged girlfriend, but ended up killing her cousin who bravely came to her aid, will be sentenced today.

A TV anchorwoman, once of Bronx 12 News, was arrested over the weekend for allegedly punching a police officer in Chelsea. The New York Post, of course, loves these fall from grace stories - especially when the woman in question is beautiful. Today's front page effort is told with obvious relish.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Turf v. Grass Tussle Unearthed in Bronx

So, we've previously apprised you of the turf war that erupted on the Norwood News letters page about the synthetic turf field being installed in Williamsbridge Oval Park and in the near future at Harris Park.

Well, here's the latest from the Norwood News.

And New Yorkers for Parks has weighed in with this report on synthetic turf.

(Photo above, by Allison Grande, is of track and field under construction at Williamsbridge Oval. Synthetic turf will replace grass -- well, mostly dirt-- there when construction is complete next spring.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bronx BP Carrion Announces for ... Comptroller!

Some political observers predicted this, but it was a stunning political development nonetheless, when Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Jr. announced at a breakfast this morning that he would be running for city comptroller rather than mayor.

This is a big Christmas gift with a giant red bow on it for current comptroller William Thompson, an all-but-declared mayoral candidate. Thompson has always spoken highly of Carrion going back to when Carrion was a Council member.

But whether this means Carrion supports Thompson is still a question mark. Carrion just did Thompson a big favor. What can/will Thompson do for Carrion?

The BP could of course still support Congressman Anthony Weiner and shore up his support among Jews and middle class whites, which would pose interesting questions for who he might support, if anyone, in the next borough president's race.

Let the jockeying begin.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Baez's Housing Bill Dead

A controversial housing bill is dead, says the Daily News, after its sponsors - Bronx Council members Maria Baez and Joel Rivera - climbed down amidst stern opposition and claims that the legislation would threaten affordable housing. The bill's defeat seems to have cleared the path for a different bill, the so-called Tenants Protection Act, which is supported by tenant rights groups and the majority of the City Council. A hearing on this bill is set for Dec. 17.

If passed, the Tenant Protection Act will allow tenants to sue landlords for harassment in housing court. (Anti-harassment legislation is needed, say advocates, because landlords are increasingly trying to force out long-term tenants so they can bring in new tenants with deeper pockets. Baez's bill would have allowed tenants to sue for harassment, but, crucially, it would have empowered landlords to sue tenants for the same thing.)

For more about these two bills, pick up the December issue of the Mount Hope Monitor (it's not yet online as we're having Web issues). The story's also going in tomorrow's Norwood News. Also, if you haven't already, read what Tom Robbins of the Village Voice had to say. Robbins suggests, among other things, that Rivera threw his weight behind Baez's bill because the real estate industry is helping to fund his (expected) run for borough president. There was also an earlier Daily News piece on these bills, and something on WNYC.

All of this media attention led off from a protest outside Baez's district office on Nov. 27 (pictured), which was organized by Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA). At the time, Baez's office issued a statement in which Baez said, "We are having a healthy discussion and debate about both bills."

With today's news, the debate, it would seem, is now officially over.

(Photo by James Fergusson)

No Real Victory on Water Yet

Opinion from Guest Blogger Gregory Lobo Jost:
While some think the deal struck between the City Council and DEP to hold off on the 18% mid-year increase on water rates is something of a victory, the situation is far from resolved. In exchange for taking the unprecedented mid-year increase off the table, the legislation introduced in the City Council yesterday would give DEP the authority to sell stand alone water liens. In the past, water liens could only be sold in a lien sale if there was also an outstanding tax lien. The council had been reluctant to authorize stand alone water liens in the past due to the many billing errors plaguing the water system. For now, the only victory than can be claimed is by DEP and the Water Board over the City Council.

Recent press on the issue continues to focus on the "deadbeats", especially Frank Lombardi of the Daily News who uses the term 9 times in his most recent article. To categorize every customer delinquent on their water bills with such language ignores the continued billing errors perpetuated by DEP, and the growing subprime foreclosure debacle where homeowners were not offered the best mortgage product they actually qualified for and were often the victims of fraud.

A decent victory on water rates will come when the focus of the debate moves from collections to DEP's ballooning expenditures. At a time when other City agencies are cutting their budgets by 2.5% across the board, DEP's capital costs continue to escalate without check, and the burden will continue to fall on rate payers.

The real victory will come when the entire way water rates are structured is changed. The current regressive-taxation system has rate payers footing the bill for capital costs and a rental payment to the City. While paying for the actual delivery of water as a utility makes sense, these other costs have nothing to do with the amount of water used in the City; in fact, DEP admits that as water use has dropped in the past 20 years due to conservation efforts, rates have had to increase to cover the gap.

Even more bizarre is that when water rates go up, DEP's collection rate goes down -- most likely since rates have gone up so dramatically (22%) in the past 18 months. DEP factors this into their equation for rate increases, meaning that when they need a 12% increase, they move to impose an 18% increase to cover the gap left by rate payers who will fall behind when their water bills go up so much.

For now, the next large increase will likely be postponed until July 2008. If the pressure doesn't change from focusing on collections to DEP's enormous expenditures, the effectiveness of the lien sales and shut-offs on collections will determine what the actual increase will be. With the mounting foreclosure crisis, this strategy will not prevent another large hike this coming year, and is no cause for victory.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dangerous Intersections

Three west Bronx intersections are among the most dangerous in the city for pedestrians, according to figures posted on Crashstat, a newly relaunched Web site published by Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group that wants to see fewer cars on the city's streets.

Webster Avenue at East Fordham Road, East 167th Street at Grand Concourse, and East 183rd Street at Grand concourse, all make Crashstat's top ten most treacherous list. Webster at Fordham, for example, was the site of 99 crashes involving pedestrians. (Whether this is for 2007, a previous year, or over several years, isn't clear, but it's a useful tool all the same.) Also listed are dangerous intersections for cyclists.

There's also a zoomable map that highlights accidents hotspots. And you can search by borough for the number of injuries and fatalities involving pedestrians and cyclists, in any given year from 1995 to 2005. Supposedly, you can search by community district too, but this feature isn't working (it's a beta site).

Thanks to Changing the Court for drawing our attention to Crashstat's relaunch.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Bronx News Roundup for Dec. 10

Brilliant, bold, visionary - some of the adjectives to have been thrown Dan Doctoroff's way since it was announced last week that the deputy mayor is leaving the Bloomberg administration to head up Bloomberg L.P., his boss' gigantic media company. But, as John Desio reports in The Village Voice, not everyone holds Doctoroff in high regard. “I think that Dan Doctoroff is worse than Robert Moses,” Lukas Herbert of Save Our Parks told The Voice, a reference to Doctoroff's support of the new Yankee Stadium project which has swallowed parkland in the South Bronx.

A 26-year-old man was shot dead in Bedford Park on Saturday night.

A construction worker was killed, Friday, following an accident at a construction site in Tremont. (According to The Times story, the man's name wasn't immediately released because the authorities had yet to contact his relatives. The Times, having coaxed the name from the construction company's president, goes ahead and prints it anyway. Perhaps this is standard practice, but it's also a tad unethical, isn't it?)

Twenty-six people were injured in a fire in a Bronxdale apartment building, Sunday night. The blaze was started by sparking Christmas lights.

A Bronx firefighter, seriously injured in a fall in Highbridge on Nov. 18, has left hospital. More on the fire and fall here.

A Highbridge woman struggles to pay her rent.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Bronx News Roundup for Dec. 7

A cop has been indicted on first-degree manslaughter charges following the May shooting death of Fermin Arzu, an unarmed Honduran immigrant, in Longwood. More about the shooting here.

A detective assigned to the 44th Precinct is facing perjury charges.

Another Bronx "F" school is being zapped. This time it's PS 156. So far, then, four Bronx schools are for the chop, the others being
PS 79 on Creston Avenue in Mount Hope, and IS 216 and PS 220. More on the the closings here.

A Bronx charter school is in hot water after a audit revealed that administrators laid down nearly $68,000 on staff retreats to the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.

The Bronx is leading the way in snow leopard production.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Bronx News Roundup for Dec. 6

The Times takes a look at the 60-year-old Bronx Symphony Orchestra and a new system of arts funding that might make it more difficult for the symphony to continue.

I thought I had it good at Vassar College where the female to male ratio in the 1980s was 3:2. Well, here’s a story about a Bronx kid who is the ONLY male student Wellesley this year.

Parkchester native Pvt. Isaac T. Cortes, 26, who died in Iraq, is laid to rest.

River Park, which is next to a Bronx River waterfall at 180th Street and Boston Road gets new play equipment, a children’s amphitheater and more.

Speaking of the Bronx River, looks like Jose the Beaver has been busy doing some chompin’.

Council members, who get paid $112,500 a year discussed at a hearing yesterday how much outside work its members permitted and those lucrative additional stipends (which go to members who head a committee or subcommittee – which is almost all of them) known as “lulus.” Guess what? There’s not a heck of lot of support for doing things any differently. In opposing proposed changes, Bronx councilman Larry Seabrook said he “took an oath to serve, not an oath of poverty.”

And the Village Voice’s Tom Robbins takes a close look at two competing tenant harassment bills in the City Council. The one that is more favorable to landlords is sponsored by Council Member Maria Baez and Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera, both of the Bronx. The Mount Hope Monitor will have more on this when the upcoming issue hits the streets later this week.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Bronx Pastor Katrina Foster Questions Barack Obama on Health Care

Rev. Katrina Foster, pastor of Fordham Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Bronx, questioned Sen. Barack Obama about healthcare at last Saturday's Heartland Presidential Forum in Iowa, where grassroots community organizations from around the country participated in questioning several Democratic presidential candidates. Foster was part of a contingent from the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. The event was organized by the Center for Community Change.

Big Money in the Bronx Fuels Tenant Anxiety

Cristina Alesci has this Highbridge Horizon exclusive about how several South Bronx tenants are feeling heightened anxiety since major investment firms took over their buildings in early 2007

News Roundup December 4

Today's New York Times has this story about Daisy Rochez and her three sons, who are trying to pick up the pieces in a Longwood shelter after losing their home -- and almost their lives -- in an August 15 fire.

There is controversy at P.S. 70, where the school's chess team will travel to this week's national tournament in Texas without their head coach, Jonathan Alejandro, who is under investigation by the school. Several parents have apparently rallied to Alejandro's defense.

Students from more than 20 Bronx high schools will compete in the Game Show Network's National Vocabulary Championship next week.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Bronx News Roundup for Dec. 3

Voice of America has this report on Hugo Chavez, and the nationally owned Venezuelan oil company CITGO, supporting Rocking the Boat and other Bronx nonprofits.

Last stop for the City Council gravy train? Acccording to the New York Sun, The Council is on the verge of grappling with an issue close to the hearts—and wallets-of its members. Long considered part-time legislators, Council members, who are paid $112,500 are permitted to hold other jobs, some of them quite lucrative. All but a few members also get stipends – known as “lulus” for payments in “lieu” of salary – for chairing committees and subcommittees. This should get interesting.

San Francisco has banned plastic shopping bags. The Big Apple might not be ready to follow suit but two Council members, Simcha Felder and Gale Brewer, are drafting a bill that would give tax credits to businesses for offering alternatives to plastic bags. Meanwhile Council Member Peter Vallone favors a different measure that would require stores to offer recycling of plastic bags. Guess who else supports this, according to the Sun? The plastic bag lobby. Yes, Virginia, apparently there is indeed a plastic bag lobby.

Pointing to a NYT article this weekend about State Senate Majority Leader Joe Brunio, Bronx State Senator Jose M. Serrano predicts that the tide might be turning in the Albany scandal wars.

It's Official -- Efforts to Extend Term Limits are Dead

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced today that the Council is abandoning all efforts to extend or repeal term limits, which currently limits all New York City elected officials -- Council member, public advocate, comptroller, borough presidents and mayor -- to two 4-year terms. (It does not apply to the city's representatives to the state legislature or officials elected statewide, like the governor, the attorney general and the comptroller).

Here's Quinn's full statement:

After careful consideration and discussions with my colleagues in the Council, I have decided not to pursue a change in New York City's term limit law. I will neither support legislation nor will I seek or support a new referendum eliminating or altering term limits.

Over the last two years, the City Council has pursued an agenda of reform and democratization. We have strengthened our lobbying and campaign finance laws, increased transparency in the budget process and improved our constituent services by implementing CouncilStat. I believe that overruling the will of New Yorkers - who have voted twice in favor of term limits - would be anti-democratic and anti-reform.

While our City is certainly doing well, we still face many challenges. On education, jobs, housing and health care, working New Yorkers need our help. That means the Council and the Administration must focus our attention on these critical issues and not be distracted by a political debate over term limits - a matter that has already been settled by the voters.

I look forward to working with my colleagues over the next two years to make New York and an even greater place to live.