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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Response to 'Who Will Save the Bronx?'

BxNN guest blogger Gregory Lobo-Jost posted this comment to our news roundup earlier today. It's in response to an article in Crain's, called "Who Will Save the Bronx?" I thought it was worth re-posting here.  -Jordan Moss
I had just finished reading the current issue of Crain's on my lunch break when I saw this link to Greg David's story. Here is the somewhat lengthy comment I posted in response:

First off, the data Crain's uses in their most recent issue for 2010 is based on a book from last year. I think it may be more prudent to wait for real data before jumping to some of your conclusions.

In terms of the lack of a rebound in population, one must look at the number of properties destroyed in the Bronx during the 1970s, and the earliest attempts to rebuild devastated neighborhoods. Perhaps if we bulldozed the Charlotte Street single family ranch style home developments of the 1980s and replaced them with five and six floor apartment buildings like were there before their destruction, we might get back to the same population. It's not as if there are many vacant lots waiting to be developed in the Bronx -- just ride the 4 train up Jerome Ave and see how many new developments there are. No other borough had even close to the same level of destruction, so the rebound should be applauded, not criticized.

Often I feel down about the Bronx ranking last in a number of categories such as income and low wage workers, but this is not surprising at all. Many of the neighborhoods in the other boroughs where low wage workers used to live have become too expensive for them. If it weren't for relatively low rents in the Bronx, NYC would already be something of a boutique/resort city (think Jackson Hole, Aspen or the Hamptons) where low wage workers have long commutes because they can't afford to live near their service economy jobs. Is it the fault of the Bronx that Manhattan and Brooklyn have become too expensive for low wage workers to live there? Of course not. Thank God for the Bronx, or more of these workers would be living in New Jersey!

As for the "Shops at the Armory" proposal, it would have added more jobs (though the net increase might have been lower than expected after stores on Kingsbridge and Fordham Road closed in competition) but wouldn't help improve on stats like median income, percent of households paying 50% of their income on rent, or percent of families living in poverty. The median income in Bronx hasn't moved between 1999 and 2008, meaning an inflation adjusted drop of more than 20%! There are smarter job investments to be made in a borough that desperately needs them.

In conclusion, there are a number of good stats to look at in relation the Bronx, but Crain's did not consider them in their report. For instance, we have become something of a Mecca for immigrants from West Africa, and our overall percent of foreign born residents is going up faster than any other borough -- also likely due to cheaper rents. We are the only non-border county in the nation with more than 50% Latino population, and are probably the second most diverse county in the City after Queens. We've also probably added more mosques per capita in the past decade -- and none of them have drawn a protest!


  1. "If it weren't for relatively low rents in the Bronx, NYC would already be something of a boutique/resort city (think Jackson Hole, Aspen or the Hamptons) where low wage workers have long commutes because they can't afford to live near their service economy jobs."

    Do mean the Hamptons where Mark Naison, the pied piper of leftist communist lunatics in the Fordham Alumni network of the Bronx has a summer home? Or where the oft-praised minister from Fordham Lutheran took a plum assignment (surely to provide a better place to raise her child than the Bronx)?

    What a joke.

  2. Whoa -- where did that come from anonymous? Even if what you say about a Fordham professor and a Lutheran minister are true, how does anything you said challenge the valid points Greg made?

    I would love to be part of the Fordham Leftist Communist Lunatic Alumni Network. Sounds like fun. Is there a list-serv or something I can join?

    By the way, great job, Greg.

  3. Greg David's Crain's piece is despicable.

    But unlike my colleague Greg Lobo Jost, I'm not going to try and reason away the issues with different surveys and numbers. Let's face it, the numbers suck and they portray the Bronx accurately as miserable in health care, unemployment, and the environment. And you can now add in housing, too, as the Daily News' recent story about a Bill DiBlasio study showed that eight of the ten worst buildings in the city are in the Bronx. I'll offer thoughts on that in a moment.

    First, though, let's deal with Mr. David, the classic out-of-towner talking down to the Bronx. The giveaway is that, incredibly, he compliments Adolfo Carrion as "one of the most pro-development Bronx borough presidents in history." Really? Explain to me how Carrion’s pro-development has benefitted the Bronx? With his most famous "achievement," the new Yankee Stadium? Does Mr. David have a 14 year-old child trying to play soccer on an over-crowded, sizzling hot artificial turf in the heat of the summer on top of a garage just yards from the Major Deegan expressway? Does he have a 10 year-old growing into his/her teen years without a little league field to play on? Does he have a college-aged child who is struggling to get by with a trusty mall job at the Gateway because it’s nothing but a weigh-station job, not a career job (similar to what the Kingsbridge Armory would have brought)? Does Mr. David have a Bronx cousin who would love to get a union construction job in the Bronx, but can't get in because all the NJ, LI, and Westchester workers are at the filtration plant (which now boasts of a meager 19% Bronx employment, which is well under the promises we made huge environmental sacrifices for)? This what Adolfo's development has wrought.

    Let's consider the source and understand who is making these charges in Crain’s and why. It’s so easy for Greg David to evaluate us from his perch downtown. Make no mistake, Mr. David is a whore to the same business people that Carrion prostituted for. Their interest is not for YOUR well-being, but what you can bring to THEIR pockets. That’s who he writes for and that’s who he hangs with.

    As far as the Armory, the jury is out on whether this was the right thing or not. It's up to BP Diaz and his task force to come up with a plan. And if it's a good plan and the business community rejects it, as Mr. David suggests, then we know who planted the seeds for that. It was him and his business colleagues' prejudicial, political, and limited thinking.

    Now, solutions. This is what I posted on my Facebook page and I stand by it: When you have elected officials avoiding debates and incumbents with dreadful legislative records who are the target of investigations getting re-elected on a regular basis then this is the result. LEADERSHIP! Where is it? Bronx people and their representatives have to draw the line and say no more.... and then you can begin influencing the powers that be. But with compromised and wholly inefficient representation and an electorate that has all it can do to keep themselves and their families above water... well.... this is what u get.

  4. Affordable housing and the economic health of the Bronx has been on my mind for a while, so I'll throw out a few thoughts.

    I would like to urge a sense of caution about the issue of affordability overall. In particular, I am highly skeptical that the dislocation of the working poor from other parts of the city, and their concentration in the Bronx, are positive developments.

    I could see it as a sign of both political and intellectual impoverishment that the Bronx has not had stronger coalition building to protect working-class communities in other parts of the city, while developing a healthier income mix in the Bronx. Progressive residents in Park Slope could surely be enlisted for better support, couldn't they?

    A focus on simply making more housing in the Bronx affordable to the working poor risks inadvertently reproducing the very poverty that afflicts the borough. If we allowed the city to use the Bronx to meet more and more of its affordable housing needs, we would be participating in the very process of segregation that produces a contingent workforce that can be exploited.

    A better strategy might be to foster more middle-class development in the Bronx (with programs that go under the term "affordable" housing), with more modest increases in housing for the working poor, with full protection for the existing tenants living here. This would include campaigning hard to make sure the other boroughs are developing their fair share of affordable housing.

    While it may often be cheaper to build subsidized units in the Bronx, we all need to consider the overall health of the communities here and throughout the city. It is a false urgency that would have us provide as many units as quickly as possible, wherever they can be built for the least amount of money. More communities could be affordable if they reduced the transportation/travel time costs were considered; it is an error to look at the housing cost in isolation. Additionally, communities with a more diverse range of incomes simply provide more opportunities to children growing up there than areas of isolated poverty, so fewer units that don't reproduce poverty would seem like a much better long-term investment.

    If we keep using the Bronx as low-rent quarters for low-wage workers, it is not hard to imagine the situation where "low wage workers have long commutes"... from the Bronx to their jobs in Brooklyn.

  5. Yeah, it's a pisser when the manhattanites write editorials about the Bronx... Though I will say crain's has a few reporters that can do a decent job covering issues that affect the outer boroughs.

    I definitely would agree, jay, that concentrating poverty in the Bronx isn't a plus. But how do you keep neighborhoods like Harlem, Washington heights, the lower east side and bed-stuy affordable? You can only do so much, like what happened over the past few years when organizing groups educated tenants in buildings bought by private/predatory equity investors about fighting harassment and keeping their apartments, including upper manhattan neighborhoods.

    The positive I was looking for was just that there are any "affordable" neighborhoods in the city left at all. If there are ways to make unsubsidized rents in other boroughs more affordable for low wage workers, I am all for it. Any suggestions?

  6. @ anonymous... we're trying like hell! and if you read the end of my posting abcve, that's exactly what i recommend. it was outsider Greg David thiking it has to come from somewhere else. and really, who needs him?

    @jack here' a link to dr. naison's Bronx African American History Project.
    come on board!

    @jay the public advocate's recent survey on housing made clear what i've been advocating for years... the FIRST step in bronx housing is to fix the existing stock, not to build new. you do that and poverty, health care, the environment, and education will improve. then and only then can you make a determination of what we really need in terms of new stock. but until that's done, we're running away from problems, not solving them. i'm willing to bet that a significant percentage of bronx people who are looking for housing are trying to escape substandard conditions they have become fed up with. solve that problem and you're on the way to solving the shortage problem.

  7. I certainly agree that there is a crying need to fix the existing housing stock. I strongly disagree that we should delay new construction until the existing stock has been upgraded.

    First, I simply believe there is a need for more housing. Although there are a handful of foreclosed, vacant houses in the area, there has been a clear trend toward chopping up houses to crowd in more, illegal apartments. This issue needs to be addressed, even though it's a tough one. Ultimately, it probably needs some combination of funding, amnesty for violations, and regulatory flexibility to legalize the better units. I simply do not believe you can truly upgrade the existing housing stock without providing additional units, because one of the actual problems is crowding.

    Beyond the basic question of overall numbers, it should be clear that the Bronx needs more middle-income residents. But let's be clear about what this means: I am not saying we should just bring in a bunch of people from the outside, as though they are some kind of salvation for the borough merely because they're not from The Bronx. We need to retain the successful people who make it in The Bronx. We need to provide a quality of life and sense of community that doesn't make so many of them feel they need to move away to provide better opportunities for their children. If I understand correctly, I think this is consistent with the point GAX in the Bronx is making when he says, "i'm willing to bet that a significant percentage of bronx people who are looking for housing are trying to escape substandard conditions they have become fed up with."

    Of course, to be a successful and inclusive community, we shouldn't be hostile towards outsiders, either. We should welcome people who see The Bronx as a place to make their home, and take advantage of the talent they can bring with them.

    To support middle-income residents, new construction is important. Otherwise, those middle-income residents would be removing units from the pool of units affordable to the working poor. That is assuming that enough of the existing housing stock could even be made attractive at anything like the rate we should expect to make the borough a successful place.

  8. This latter point is particularly interesting to me, because it is a problem shared by so much of our area here in The Bronx. The lack of social venues is, I believe, largely related to the lack of middle-income residents. Even low-income workers can scrape together the money to enjoy a nice evening out from time to time. They just don't do it collectively often enough to support viable businesses here. And that means that when they do, the subway fare adds to the amount they need to save up.

    I suspect a healthier mix of incomes in the community could actually make aspects of life more affordable. Increasing demand for family restaurants could remove the expense of subway fare. More educated residents, with more flexible jobs that allow them to spend 15 minutes on the phone during business hours with the Department of Consumer Affairs, would go a long way toward eliminating predatory supermarket practices.

    Yet there is still a matter of balance when it comes to the commercial question. Before I moved to Harlem, I lived on the Upper West Side, and watched in horror as fancy places charging $15 for a hamburger replaced all the affordable restaurant options. This goes back to the matter of having a broad income mix in the residential market. The Upper West Side restaurants were all going "foodie" as any sense of balance in the housing market was priced away.

    I am sure this is rambling a bit. I feel like I'm still working some of this out... But the bottom line is a need to constantly strive for a balance. I think we get there by pushing for more affordable units where the market is expensive, and encouraging more market-rate units where there are concentrations of low rental units. And it is important to try locating affordable housing with some understanding of likely employment locations to minimize the transportation burdens for families.

    I'd be curious to hear any reactions!

  9. Even if nobody were displaced, and units turned over to new residents with higher incomes as existing residents moved out, there would be fewer units available to the poorer residents. That would run head-on against Greg's very valid concern about losing the affordability that remains in the five boroughs.

    That's not to say that some turnover couldn't be productive. It probably would be. Having buildings remain low-income is clearly a problem, and buildings, just like neighborhoods, benefit from a better mix of income levels. This is particularly true, since revenue from market-rate units provides landlords with significant numbers of rent-stablized units with the income they need to actually afford repairs and upgrades.

    Yet the only way to accommodate that type of turnover in the existing housing stock, without reducing the availability of affordable units, is by constructing more affordable units to replace those removed by more affluent residents. Note that these units do not need to be, and really should not be, in the same neighborhoods if we are to ever achieve a better balance.

    It would be better to focus the affordable units where there is new commercial development. This would foster a better pairing between housing and employment opportunities, and better transportation between homes and jobs. In concrete terms, we need to push very hard for housing for the lowest-income workers, as well as supportive housing, in large projects in Manhattan. The days of providing off-site affordable housing need to be completely over. The income targets for "affordable" housing in Manhattan cannot remain strictly middle-income, either.

    I would like to consider this question:"how do you keep neighborhoods like Harlem, Washington heights, the lower east side and bed-stuy affordable?" This might be part of the problem. Viewing particular low-rent neighborhoods as "affordable" is problematic. As a former Harlem resident, I would contend that in many real ways, life in my section of Northern Harlem was unaffordable in the real terms that mattered. Access to quality produce was non-existent, what miserable produce that was available was overpriced, and then the grocery stores rang the items up at higher prices, effectively stealing from their low-income customers. Going out socially almost always required a subway trip, adding considerably to the expense for anyone who did not have an unlimited ride Metrocard. The list could go on.

  10. Ok... bad idea... The three parts somehow didn't get posted in the right order.

  11. Personally, being a native Bronxite, I would love to see the Bronx gentrify despite what anyone says and yes I'm Latino. I see absolutely nothing wrong with it. If you look at the big picture, the pros outweigh the cons. There are many issues holding the Bronx back from prospering. Issue #1- the Bronx has become a dumping ground for low-income/subsidized/ghetto people. Not very attractive especially if you're an educated, middle class, working prospective tenant looking for a clean, quiet neighborhood to raise a family that's near public transportation to live in without all the "riff-raff". Not too many Bronx neighborhoods offer that. And the ones that do, look at their demographics and compare it to known "hoods" and tell me if you notice a difference in quality of people?

    A main contributor to this problem in the Bronx is the gentrification that's been occurring in Harlem and Washington Heights that has caused the displacement of many "undesirables" or bad apples from that area, and forced them to migrate further north to the Bronx to find affordable housing since the Bronx clearly has the cheapest rents in all 5 boroughs. While the quality of life improves in Harlem and Washington Heights due to gentrification, the Bronx declines due to a population increase of ghetto/trashy people from the gentrifying areas that further degrades the Bronx. The majority of these transplants are most likely on some form of government public program like Section 8, Welfare or Work Advantage which further adds to the already high number of subsidized residents living in the Bronx. I believe that the Bronx demographics needs to change in the sense that there needs to be LESS Bronx residents on Section 8/Welfare in order to attract higher quality residents that won't destroy their own neighborhood unlike the current predominate Bronx demographic.


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