Mayor Bill de Blasio’s battle to build affordable housing in New York will echo under the girders of the Jerome Avenue railroad in the Bronx in the months to come, as residents raise concerns about rent rates and tenant displacement.
City Hall published plans in late August for a massive rezoning of the strip, which it claims will add 3000 affordable housing units spanning 73 blocks from 165th Street to 184th Street.
But the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision, an alliance of local organizations, says that 78 percent of residents will not be eligible to apply for affordable housing under existing income thresholds.
The tenant advocates are campaigning for housing allocations to be calculated according to local, rather than citywide, wage averages.
The de Blasio administration made affordable housing provision and maintenance a top priority when it took office in 2014, promising hundreds of thousands of additional units over ten years.
The City says that the Jerome rezoning was one of the first to be planned under this touchstone initiative, prompted by repeated requests from local community board members and politicians. These local officials, however, stress that any new housing must be genuinely low cost.
“This side of the Bronx has an opportunity,” said Angel Caballero, vice-chair of Community Board 5 and Executive Director of the Davidson Community Center. “We need affordable housing for everyone, but the City has to spell out what it means by ‘affordable housing.’”
Another key point of contention as the plans go out for public consultation is whether existing tenants will be displaced
The City says the rezoning is expected to displace fewer than 500 residents, so it will not conduct a detailed analysis of changes to the area’s socioeconomic make-up.
“How can they say that? The City doesn’t live here. They don’t know what they’re talking about,” said Caballero.
“500 residents isn’t just a number, those are real people getting pushed out,” said Clara Cruz, an activist with the People Power Movement, a community organizing group.
A spokesperson for the New York Department of City Planning said it anticipates that significantly fewer than 500 people will be displaced, but that it remains committed to working with all those in the community likely to be affected by the rezoning.
The draft plans for Jerome Avenue were released just two weeks after the City Council rejected a much smaller rezoning project in Inwood, Manhattan.
This ‘no’ vote was seen as a major defeat for a signature de Blasio policy, which would allow developers to skirt regulations if they commit to keeping a percentage of new homes affordable for lower income tenants.
In a context of rapidly rising rents, few locally dispute the idea that the West Bronx urgently requires more housing stock for low earners.
“We need it. Affordable housing, that is, not just housing,” said Wayne Logan, an entertainment manager. “I’m looking for a place.”
Many residents, however, didn’t seem to know that the rezoning was happening.
“99 percent of people don’t know about Jerome,” said Abdul Ali, whose family owns businesses on Burnside Avenue, which is slated to become a commercial corridor under the plans. “The City can do whatever it wants because people don’t know what’s going on.”
A public hearing with City officials is scheduled for September 29th at Bronx Community College. Local residents can submit written comments on the plans until 5pm on October 10th.