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In its second year, Gateway Center earns mixed reviews

Nancy Marrero, a 2008 graduate of the New School with a master’s degree in human resources, was confident enough in her resume in 2009 to post it on a web site called the Bronx Fast Track Unit for employment at the then-unfinished Gateway Center in Highbridge.
Shoppers fill the 3-level mall for the holiday season, but good jobs are hard to come by. Photo: Zach Schonbrun

Shoppers fill the 3-level mall for the holiday season, but good jobs are hard to come by. Photo: Zach Schonbrun

Marrero had another thing going in her favor: she was born and raised in the Bronx. So she filled out a digital application for an opening as an administrative assistant at the mall’s management office. The Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, the entity that ran the job-search site, noticed her credentials and she was hired for a salaried, full-time office position with a company, Related Company, LP, that has promised room to grow. “She fit the bill,” said Omar Benjamin, the business development manager of the job-hunting organization that found her. To some, Marrero’s story nicely illuminates the 15-month-old Gateway Center’s potential influence on the community: thanks to Gateway, a hard-working local resident has a sturdy platform to start her ascendance toward the once seemingly unattainable middle class. To others, though, similar success stories have come too few and far between to deem the mall a savior on Highbridge’s blighted commercial horizon, and the promise that the Gateway Center will ever become that white knight may be even more distant. As with most building developments in the Bronx, there were pros and cons about the $400 million Gateway Center from its conception, in 2004. There is little dispute that the mall was an aesthetic addition to the community when it replaced the derelict Bronx Terminal Market, which for years had festered as a dingy eyesore just 10 blocks from Yankee Stadium. But the economic ripples caused by the Gateway Center’s splashy entrance are more difficult to parse out. Though the mall has introduced jobs to a neighborhood with a high poverty and joblessness rate, business advocates raise concerns about too many low-wage retail jobs flooding the borough, and community-based organizations openly question several measures taken by Gateway’s developers. And while residents are pleased to have the new shopping options in their neighborhood, they grumble about the mall’s 2,600-space parking facility, which could be viewed as an appropriate symbol for Gateway’s complicated impact on the Bronx: it answers some of the area’s local parking concerns — while charging $3.50 an hour to park. “It hasn’t been a win-win for both the community and the developer,” said City Councilwoman Helen Diane Foster. “It has been a situation where the developer’s needs and wants are put before the community.” Others would counter Foster’s claim, pointing to the approximately 2,100 jobs that the mall has introduced to the community thanks to major retailers like Target, B.J.’s, and Home Depot, as well as the high-end shopping opportunities from stores like Bed Bath & Beyond or Best Buy that provide local consumers with convenient new options. According to Related’s vice president, Joanna Rose, more than two-thirds of the mall’s jobs have been filled local residents, far exceeding the stipulation in the development’s Community Benefits Agreement, and minimum wage requirements even for sales positions were raised to approach the city’s living wage levels. When Target, which employs about 750 year-round workers, held its initial job fair for the community in the spring of 2009, more than 7,000 applications flooded its offices. Similar totals could be seen at B.J.’s, despite having only 300 job openings, and the Bronx Economic Development Corporation continues to see potential applicants looking for jobs at Gateway every day. “It’s been a mass outcry of individuals asking for job opportunities,” Benjamin said. From that standpoint, Gateway has appeared to work at helping residents find work. *** In 2004, a private investment firm in New York City, Related Companies LP, purchased the Bronx Terminal Market property from landowner David Buntzman for $42.5 million with no public bidding. Critics, including Representative Anthony Weiner and City Council members Foster and Hiram Monserrate, lamented the swiftness of the deal, contending that it should have been opened to other developers, considering the high demand for the quality land just beyond Yankee Stadium. Weiner pointed toward the close relationship between Related’s C.E.O. Stephen M. Ross and Daniel Doctoroff, then the city’s deputy mayor for economic development, as proof of favoritism with the generous building subsidies bestowed on Related, which had recently completed construction of the new Time Warner building at Columbus Circle. But along with its detractors, however, there were ample groups of supporters, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrion, who saw Gateway as one of the city’s most necessary revitalization projects. And by August 2006, construction on the 900,000 square-foot facility was already underway. Twenty-three food merchants were evicted from Bronx Terminal Market, resulting in a loss of more than 400 jobs. According to a news release shortly after the Gateway development deal was made, Carrion stated that the mall was expected to bring in 3,700 jobs. That number was knocked down to 2,100 when the mall was finally opened in September 2009. The Community Benefits Agreement signed by Carrion and the City Council required that at least 25 percent of the jobs hired by Related would be from the community and that $3 million would be set aside for local hiring and job training programs. Critics of the community agreement, such as Foster, argued that the draft was settled too hastily and that the $60,000 penalty for violating the agreement was an insufficient deterrent for a development firm like Related. In 2007, Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. called for a full accounting investigation of funds appropriated by the agreement for the setup of the Bronx Fast Track Unit, a web site run by the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation for the purpose of aiding local job training and hiring for the mall. Though the results of the investigation have not been issued, in September Diaz announced the appointment of a task force designed to enforce guidelines for further public benefit agreements in the borough.
The mall has brought stores like BestBuy and Target into the neighborhood for the first time. Photo: Zach Schonbrun

The mall has brought stores like BestBuy and Target into the neighborhood for the first time. Photo: Zach Schonbrun

The agreement wound up costing Related $5 million. Its major provisions included prohibiting the arrival of Wal-Mart, and a space set aside for childcare services and waste management in accordance with environmentally friendly certification guidelines. It did not mention parking prices, minimum wages or placement of the evicted tenants. Related has no problem with the agreement and sees its Gateway Center as a successful “boon” to the community thus far. “Our tenants have been very pleased,” Rose said. “They’ve ingratiated themselves in the community and their traffic has been very, very good.” Before the agreement was signed, a “Task Force Coalition” was organized by Carrion to investigate the development and what the agreement would ultimately mean to the community. The coalition, handpicked by Carrion, consisted of more than a dozen grassroots business development groups, and, according to a report by the New York chapter of the American Planning Association, were given no legal guidance before negotiating with Related over the agreement. Only three members ended up signing the agreement, which was passed nonetheless. Mayor Bloomberg praised the agreement as one that “will go a long way toward meeting the community’s needs.” “The whole (agreement) was so damned political — too political,” said Jose Rodriguez, the district manager of Community Board 4, which includes Highbridge. He was upset too few grassroots organizations were involved in the agreement’s drafting process. “I think you can hear it in my voice. It was a mess.” The unemployment rate for the Bronx was at 12.5 percent through November, nearly three percentage points higher than the average for New York City, according to data from the New York State Department of Labor. Highbridge has managed to add more than 2,100 jobs in the last 10 years for an increase of 58 percent, the highest percent change in the borough. But economists worry that too big an influx of low-wage, low-skill jobs is merely a short-term fix. According to the Center for an Urban Future, a New York-based think tank that examines workforce data, 42 percent of workers over the age of 18 in the Bronx have “low-wage jobs” earning less than $11.54 per hour or $24,003 per year. That percentage is by far the highest in the city; Queens, at 34 percent, comes next. “I think the proliferation of low-wage jobs in this one borough is a legitimate concern,” said David Giles, a research associate at Center for an Urban Future. “I think it’s well within [the city’s] rights to talk to the developers and chain stores that are going into those places and talk about minimum wage requirements as a condition of whatever government subsidies or rezoning efforts.” But Arthur Merlino, who heads the Bronx branch of the New York State Department of Labor, said it’s important to help people who are simply looking for part-time jobs, such as high school or college students who need extra money for tuition. “You have to consider the full range of possibilities here,” Merlino said. “You have a lot of individuals going to high school and college that depend on flexible hours and weekend hours to help with some of their expenses.” The community agreement stipulated a “maximum effort” to pay employees a “living wage,” which for New York City would be $11.86 per hour. Shannon Rzasa, the director of the Bronx Workforce1 Career Center, which facilitates much of the hiring at Gateway, said the mall’s stores ensure a minimum of $10 per hour for most sales job, and others, like a position on the “Geek Squad” at Best Buy, will pay up to $20 per hour. Businesses like Best Buy and Target, Rzasa said, are also well known for their reputation to promote from within and develop career tracks starting at a sales or cashier level. “I think people understand those brands,” Rzasa said. “That it’s not just a $10 per hour job, it’s a start.” Others are not so optimistic and draw parallels between cashier jobs at big-box retailers and flipping burgers at fast-food chains: rises through the ranks, while occasional, are by no means an ordinary career path. “I would love for everyone to be honest to the fact that these are low-pay, low-skill and there really is no future within the organization with these types of jobs,” Rodriguez said. “Maybe one or two become managers and then they move on. But I haven’t heard that type of story. It’s somewhat what I expected. Retail work is retail work.” Gateway’s retailers have worked almost exclusively with the New York State Department of Labor and the Bronx Workforce1 Career Center, an employment service run by the city’s department of small businesses, to fill jobs at most of the retailers at the facility. But they have not worked in the same way with other community-based employment networks, like BronxWorks, a local organization with a substantial workforce development program. The director of that program, Jessica Nathan, said BronxWorks helps about 3,000 people every year find jobs in Highbridge. She estimated only 15-20 of her clients have been offered jobs at Gateway, and only one or two were offered managerial positions. “It’s the nature of the game,” Nathan said. “A large employer would shy away from working with a whole number of community-based organizations. We’re thankful those employers come to the Bronx and hire Bronx residents, but can we establish relationships with them? Not always.” *** On an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon in mid-November, the Gateway mall was crammed with customers zipping up and down the escalators and rattling shopping carts along the concrete outer corridors. The carts are mechanized so that their wheels stop spinning once they reach a certain limit outside the store in order to prevent theft. But some people have nonetheless managed to carve out a niche business lifting the stalled carts to customers’ cars. They are called the hustlers — usually teenagers who ask for a few bucks in return for a lift — and they join a busy micro-economy that has stemmed from the new mall: gypsy cabs who line up along the first level of the parking garage waiting for fares; gyro venders whose carts fill the sidewalks along River Avenue; parking attendants who fill neighboring lots; street hawkers who set up tables filled with candy bars to attract passersby. They come to take advantage of the foot traffic now centralized at Gateway, after years gone wasted at the old Bronx Terminal Market. These are the undervalued positives of a new community center: the tiny flicks of opportunity that surface after a major development has made its splash. In speaking with shoppers, almost all would agree that Gateway has been a welcomed addition to the community. It was two weeks before Thanksgiving but Toys ‘R’ Us was already bustling with activity. The wholesale giant B.J.’s accepts food stamps and offers half-priced membership for low-income families so a constant stream of customers rolled out lugging packages of bulk food packages. The mall has its expected discount chains — Marshall’s, Target, Payless — but also a few that have never been in that section of the Bronx before, like the home goods retailer Bed Bath & Beyond and the upscale furniture seller Raymour & Flanigan. “I love this store,” said Bronx resident Rosa Cassado, pushing a cart full of goods outside Bed Bath & Beyond. “I’d come here every day if I could. The prices are so good, and the people take care of you here. It’s fabulous.” Cassado used to have to travel to Yonkers or midtown Manhattan to find shopping that is now located within walking distance from her apartment on 164th Street. Last year, a two-level Bed Bath & Beyond closed in Bay Plaza, making the Gateway Center’s store the only one in the borough. “I usually get things here for my apartment,” said Shaniqua Morrero, 25, of Pelham Bay. “I like the stuff here.” “Now they’ve realized the power of our dollar,” said Rodriguez of the high-end chain outlets at the mall. “I think it kind of promotes community development. It promotes economic diversity.” Rodriguez and others, however, have expressed concern over another issue at Gateway — the cost of parking in the mall’s six-level garage. The mall’s parking lot, owned by Manhattan Parking Group, a private company that controls more than 60 lots across New York City, has a capacity of 2,600 cars and charges up to $3.50 an hour to park — a source of tension in the community for many residents unable to afford such steep prices to park. “A pay-to-park lot is egregious,” said Foster, who has battled over parking in the Bronx since she was first elected City Councilwoman in 2001. “It is another means by which money is being made off of the working poor.” Rose said repeatedly that the prices the garage charges are consistent with what other indoor facilities charge within the area. She declined to answer whether or not there is discussion about waiving the fees. On an average weekday, Gateway’s indoor structure will shelter around 2,000 vehicles, according to M.D. Hossain, the garage’s assistant manager. But Hossain acknowledged those numbers are slipping, and Rodriguez is concerned that that will hurt business at the stores. “I think it just doesn’t make any sense,” Rodriguez said. “You have a similar type of development in Westchester County and the parking is free, totally free." “These stores will say, ‘We’re losing money because people are not using these facilities so we’ve got to go,’ ” he added. “So now they’ll tell corporate America, ‘Don’t come to the Bronx because you won’t make any money.’ ” It is another issue of debate, atop a long list trailing the new focal point of the Bronx’s commercial landscape.

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Money, Southern Bronx0 Comments

Urban slaughterhouses on the rise

Lamb Arriving At a Vivero in the South Bronx. Photo: Zach Schonbrun

Lambs arriving at a vivero in the South Bronx. Photo: Zach Schonbrun

One afternoon in early October, a 16-wheeled tractor-trailer held up traffic along Jerome Avenue in the South Bronx while it backed into an open garage bay. Passersby paused to gaze at the truck’s cargo. Through narrow slats in the trailer, dozens of goats and sheep stuck out their noses, sniffing their last seconds of sunshine before disappearing into the garage. The truck had traveled from outside Harrisburg, Penn., one of its biweekly trips carrying animals delivered to the vivero, a live butcher shop, sandwiched between two auto body shops and across the street from a gas station. Above the garage bay, a colorful sign blares “Live Poultry!” with cartoonish images of roosters, ducks and goats. This is “New York Live Poultry,” one in a vast and growing network of over a dozen urban slaughterhouses in the Bronx where customers can choose their dinner from a cage and have the animal slaughtered and butchered within minutes. These viveros are wedged all across the borough --- along busy pedestrian avenues, nestled underneath railroad tracks, next to furniture stores, or across from playgrounds. Once a niche business catering to a distinct segment of the population, viveros are evolving into a dynamic — if not unsettling — staple of everyday Bronx life, capitalizing on the ethnic diversity of a borough that is nearly 30 percent foreign born. According to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, 17 viveros are registered in the Bronx, among 83 total citywide. Some have been in business since the early 1990s. More recently, however, live poultry shops have sprung up with added frequency — thanks in part to the borough's loose zoning restrictions, lack of supermarket competition and its rapidly growing number of Muslim Arabs and Africans who prefer their meat be killed live in accordance with halal practices. The rapid spread has helped to heighten tension with surrounding business owners. Some wonder how wise it is to butcher animals so near to crowded city streets. “I don’t ever need my chicken that fresh,” said Bronx city councilwoman Helen Diane Foster. “But people swear by it.” The Arab population in the city, most of whom are Muslim, has grown by nearly 40 percent since 1990, according to a report by the city’s commission on human rights in 2003. More than 3,100 Arabs currently live in the Bronx, while the African population has more than doubled in the last two decades, to 60,000, many of whom are also Muslim and eat only halal meat products. The majority of the viveros’ clientele are immigrants, and they frequent the shops for freshly butchered meat at a lower cost than the supermarket.. The prices, at less than $2 a pound in most places compare favorably with $2.50 per pound for a breast of chicken at local supermarkets.  Signs and menus are often written in Spanish, and many have images of mosques or Muslim symbols adorning the walls. “We have all kinds of people coming here,” said Abdul Nahshel, the 18-year-old manager of Cross Bronx Live on Jerome Avenue. “Africans, Latins, even people from Michigan and Ohio.” Nahshel said cultural preferences even play out with individual orders. Africans often buy older chickens to make soup from the tougher meat. Dominicans prefer Guinea fowl for roasting. Guyanese favor ducks for curry. “Arab guys don’t buy from the supermarkets,” said Sah Mohmad, manager at Saba Live Poultry on the Grand Concourse, who added that 80 percent of his customers are either Arab or African. Saba’s live food selection included turkeys, quails, rabbits, pigeons, sheep, goats, even calves — not atypical of an open-air market in the Middle East or Africa. For many Bronx immigrants, the viveros are a last pure vestige of home. “I think it’s cultural,” said Foster. “Because of the large Dominican and West African population we have, it’s just really cultural.”

* * *

At about 6 p.m. each weeknight along Webster Avenue in Morrisania, workers at the local vivero drag plastic garbage bins packed with discarded animal parts onto the sidewalk. A special garbage truck that specializes in hauling away such parts will be around shortly to collect the refuse. Until then, however, the stench of rotting meat chokes the neighborhood. The vivero, Webster Live Chicken, sits snugly in the center of a bustling commercial district. A large furniture store is its neighbor to the right, a Dunkin’ Donuts to the left. Commuters standing at the bus stop on the nearby corner are subjected to wretched odors each evening. Though no formal complaints have been made to Community District 3, a small petition was circulated by the owner of a liquor store around the corner, demanding the vivero cease its disposal practices. Still, their popularity spreads, the locations of these slaughterhouses, often in residential and commercial areas, have led to occasional tension with the surrounding community. For neighboring businesses, the smell is enough to raise objections. “It’s rotten, the smell is awful,” said Ramon Perez, owner of Olympic Cleaners, a dry cleaners around the corner from the vivero. “They put (the bins) outside and the heat makes it smell awful.” Several women working in the cleaners shook their heads when describing the odor that often seeps through the wall the two stores share. “They’re burning hair,” Perez said. “Almost everyday I have to go in there and tell them to stop burning.” The manager of the Webster Avenue vivero declined comment. A furniture store manager on the Grand Concourse boarded up the hallway leading to the entrance of the store to block some of the smell from an adjacent vivero and occasionally shoos away fugitive chickens from wandering inside. “I have problems on many levels — just personally it kind of grosses me out,” Foster said. “But surprisingly enough, I have not heard or received any complaints about them.” * * * Cross Bronx Live manager Nahshel scoffed when asked if he hears objections from people in the community. “It’s chickens, everybody in the world eats chicken,” he said. “They’re probably against the slaughtering part but they’re not against eating it.” Most viveros are characterized by a ramshackle appearance: corrugated iron, warped window signs, dusty fans, plastic windows. Inside, the floors are usually concrete, wet with feathers and entrails that clog the drains. The screeching of Guinea fowl and persistent clucking of hens drowns out conversation between customers and can often be heard from outside the store. Yet, it is the smell that overwhelms the most. A pungent, soggy odor of blood is overlaid by the barnyard scent of tightly packed farm animals. Despite their appearance, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, the body that regulates these businesses, said that they are inspected at least four times per year and that each store must be given two separate licenses to practice: one to ensure the caged animals are healthy, the other regulated processing practices. Furthermore, since 2003, the outbreak of the Avian influenza virus, stores are forced to shut down for a day four times per year to clean and disinfect their entire facilities. “We’re very familiar with the live bird markets,” a spokesperson for the Department said. “These stores would not be open if there wasn’t a demand for fresh poultry. We want to make sure they’re done in the cleanest, safest way possible.” Though concerns have been raised in the past about issues with overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, the Department said, it has not needed to shut down a store in several years. Some of these stores, like one owned by Musa Samreen on Third Avenue, have been around for decades and have faced the same strict regulations by state inspectors. Samreen, who opened his first store in 1989 and at one point ran three at a time, has voiced his concern that the number of stores has spread out of control. He has witnessed copycat enterprises pop up throughout the borough, and, as he looked around his own near empty shop, he expressed disdain for how other shop owners have run their businesses with less care and attention to hygiene. Awkward placement in once blighted and now increasingly residential areas has taken its toll on his 21-year-old business, which he has filled with flat screen televisions and a seated waiting area. He foresees similar consequences for others. “We don’t do 10 percent of the business we did before,” said Samreen, who came to New York from Jerusalem in 1981. “This used to be an industrial area and now it is becoming residential. The new people don’t shop here.”

* * *

On a clear Sunday afternoon, just as nearby churches began to empty, vans pulled up to the curb in front of a vivero underneath a train trestle as a cycle of drivers double park, run inside, and within 10 minutes reemerge with a blue plastic bag filled with chicken meat. “I like buying fresh chickens; I don’t like frozen ones,” said Victor Reyes who came all the way from Shelton, Conn., for chicken that morning. “It’s organic, you know? You can pick the one you want.” Outside the shop, a 10-year-old boy named Angel waited for his mother to finish collecting her weekly allowance of two whole chickens. The smell of the store bothered him, so he chose to sit patiently in the cool October air. “If it was me, I would throw all those animals back into nature,” he said.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Southern Bronx0 Comments

New city childcare plan could radically reshape Bronx preschools

Childcare centers, like BronxWorks, could be forced to make alterations to their programs come 2011. Photo: Zach Schonbrun

Childcare centers, like BronxWorks, could be forced to make alterations to their programs come 2011. Photo: Zach Schonbrun

It was early in the afternoon, and the 15 preschool children in Room 4 at BronxWorks’s Learning Center had just finished naptime. Their instructor, Diane Semper, gathered the group in a semicircle on the navy blue rug in the back of the brightly lit classroom and began reading a picture book to the wide-eyed group of three-year-olds. It was about a Thanksgiving turkey being threatened by a fox. Day care facilities, like this one in Highbridge, are facing their own impending threat as the city prepares to issue a proposal for re-evaluation of its funding of public childcare programs, a shakeup that could potentially alter how preschoolers are educated in the borough. An outline of the plan drawn up in April titled “EarlyLearn NYC” is currently under revision by the Administration for Child Services (ACS) but is due to be finalized as a proposal by January. It will radically reformat the criteria for how public childcare facilities across the city receive funding and geographically organize their classrooms, and could reduce the overall number of contracts awarded to daycare providers. A new stipulation forcing directors to match an unspecified amount of funding for their programs is a special concern for centers in low-income neighborhoods. A year after the city shuttered four daycare centers in the Bronx, including one in Highbridge, many program directors are unsure what the new measure will mean for their facilities. “That’s a major, major issue that’s now on the boards,” said James Nathaniel, chief executive officer of the Highbridge Advisory Council, a non-profit  childhood education organization. “We don’t know what the future holds.” Nathaniel’s organization is the largest community-based childcare provider in the Bronx, serving approximately 1,200 children in eight facilities throughout the district. But funding cutbacks in the last year have knocked away one classroom, slashed spending and dropped current teaching positions to the minimum student-teacher ratio. Now, Nathaniel has another item to worry about: if the proposal goes through, he would need to reapply to continue running his agency, with no guarantee it will stay in his hands. Furthermore, the application for bidding for day care agencies will now be open to for-profit along with non-profit companies, adding to the competition for services and raising questions about where the overall system is headed. “We’re not sure the level of quality the for-profits will adhere to for their programs,” said Andrea Anthony, executive director of the Daycare Council of New York, a federation that helps operate more than 300 public child care centers in the city. “Our programs are required to adhere to certain educational standards. That may not be the case with for-profits.” The original proposal for “Early Learn” drafted on April 2 centered around three models for child-care services in New York City, according to its outline. No numbers have yet been released for how many children each model must support or how many programs could be cut entirely, though the outline indicated a decrease to 350 from the 570 contracts it currently holds with programs throughout the city. An ACS spokesperson contended that the timing was necessary to allow for competitive bidding on contracts, some of which have been in place for nearly a decade. The city’s procurement policy board enforces how often proposals on services are issued, and, according to the spokesperson, the ACS was already overdue. The move comes as New York City struggles to close a budget deficit of more than $60 million for ACS. In March, the city announced the closing of 15 daycare centers, for a savings of $9 million as part of the 2011 budget, as well as the plan to move five-year-olds into kindergarten classrooms and out of ACS’s hands. But the new budget is still $51 million less than the 2010 fiscal year budget, from $783 million to $732 million, according to a hearing on the budget. The Independent Budget Office, a publicly funded agency that analyses and reviews New York City’s budget, determined it was the first time since 2005 that the city’s child-care budget dropped. Furthermore, an October report from the budget office stated that the Child Care Block Grant, a state funding source, will receive $12 million less money in 2011, meaning even less grant money for city centers. The outline of the proposal received substantial criticism after its release, including rebuttals from the Day Care Council of New York, Inc., Head Start and the United Neighborhood Houses organization. All appeared before the City Council in May. Anthony said she is worried about converting to a childcare system that has not been tested. “I’m really sorry to see it being released without more background or insight as far as how it will fare,” Anthony said. Anthony also criticized the new requirement that providers match funding with money from outside sources. It’s unclear how big that match will have to be but Anthony said indications are it  will not be more than 10 percent. Still, that could be a challenge for facilities in low-income areas. In his November 2010 financial plan, Mayor Bloomberg proposed saving $13 million by raising parent fees for children in subsidized child care to 17 percent from 12 percent, along with a minimum co-payment of $15 per week. That would not include money given to directors to help in their provider-match obligations. “You can’t squeeze money from a rock,” Anthony said. “The larger agencies with multiple locations and a large infrastructure are more set up to respond to this,” said Nancy Kolben, executive director of the Center for Children’s Initiatives, a non-profit organization focused on promoting early learning. “For others, it could be a real radical change.” At BronxWorks, a borough-wide community organization based in Highbridge, administrators expect substantial cuts to the family childcare network, which encompasses more than 50 small, home-based daycare centers. Each network center, which typically is run by one person with only a handful of young pupils, is at risk of being eliminated if BronxWorks does not qualify for a minimum number of allowable network centers. That would potentially force an additional 300 children to BronxWorks’s main classrooms, a surge it would not be able to handle. “We don’t have the facilities,” said John Weed, assistant executive director of Bronx Works. The United Neighborhood Housing organization, a New York community-based group that works with low-income families, believes the number of children served by public providers in the future will ultimately be cut back. “Right now, [ACS is] serving about 27 percent of eligible children in New York City,” said Gregory Blender, the organization’s early childhood and education policy analyst. “We want that number to go higher and in fact what they’ve said publically is that under this the actual capacity will shrink.” Weed said BronxWorks has managed to avoid funding cuts in the last year but, like Nathaniel’s program, survives with a minimum ratio of teachers to students allowable by the Department of Health, which regulates daycare providers. Its main facility, along the Grand Concourse, teemed with youngsters in its four large preschool classrooms, all decorated in autumn colors, and it was clear that its director, Marcia Lawrence, had her hands full. The program recently added two free half-day programs with 18 students apiece, making BronxWorks a hectic but popular spot for local parents to send their kids. In Highbridge alone there are only 18 main daycare facilities in place to serve a population of nearly 14,000 children under five years old. According to the 2000 Census, 37 percent live with a single mother and nearly 35 percent are not proficient in English. “The impact of this (in the Bronx) could be quite substantial,” Kolben said, “whether you would see programs closing, programs combining, new partnerships. There are opportunities in this if the funding level is appropriate. That’s the real challenge: Is there the money to support this kind of change?” The total funding for “EarlyLearn” was estimated at just under $617 million, according to the briefing presentation given after release of the outline in April. In a precursor to the published outline that was acquired by the Bronx Ink, ACS cited numerous national studies in basing its “EarlyLearn” proposal on the principles of bringing more teachers into the classroom, improving curriculum, and enhancing collaboration with parents through more family support services — all ideals that could be outweighed by the stark financial realities the new proposal represents. “We don’t want (children) to lose what little they have left,” Anthony said. As their daycare director frets over potential shifting, the children at BronxWorks sit in blissful, cross-legged innocence as Semper wraps up her story. Tomorrow, they will draw turkeys using painted outlines of their tiny hands. And that is as far into the future as they care to look. “These children really need a fighting chance,” Lawrence said. “If they don’t get it, I’m really scared about what could happen to them.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Education, Southern Bronx0 Comments

Pregnant teacher kicked and loses baby

A horror story at a Bronx high school when a pregnant teacher miscarried after being kicked in the stomach trying to break up a fight between two students (NY Post).

Posted in Newswire0 Comments

Aid pours in after several heists at church in Bronx

More than $10,000 in donations has come in to support Our Lady of Refuge church in Fordham, which has been victimized by burglary recently (Daily News).

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Boxer’s belt stolen in the Bronx

The WBC Middleweight championship belt belonging to boxer Iran Barkley was stolen from his apartment in Mott Haven (Wall Street Journal).

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City Council cracks down on illegal ATMs

City Council members passed legislation that will increase fines on property owners who allow free-standing ATMs to sit outside their buildings (NY 1)

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City lawsuit aims to end long-running crack den

The city is suing to shut down a crackhouse in Hunts Point where dealers have openly peddled drugs for years (Daily News).

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