Tag Archive | "Morris Heights"

Disruption and Delay: Ongoing Transit Issues Continue to Cause Problems for River Park Towers Residents

River Park Towers located in the Morris Heights area, West Bronx. Imogen McNamara for The Bronx Ink.

River Park Towers, a housing complex located in Morris Heights in the West Bronx, is home to more than 1,500 rental units. About 7 miles from Manhattan, the dual building complex is sandwiched between the Harlem River and the Major Deegan Expressway, with little else around it.  Residents of the 428ft tall buildings have relative access to one grocery store, one school and one subway station. 

“You have to leave an hour and a half, maybe two, early to get to where you got to go,” said Shandia Vasquez, who has lived in the area for six years.

The nearest subway station is 176th street, almost a mile’s walk from the towers. Though the Metro-North railroad station is nearby and ridership is on a general upwards trend, numbers are still only at 44% of pre-pandemic levels. The community is also located on a steep incline, and so the bus system has become a crucial alternative for residents’ commutes.

There are three main routes that run through the community—the Bx18, Bx40 and Bx4. They are scheduled to arrive every 15-20 minutes during weekdays. But the demand on these routes within the Morris Heights neighborhood is high which has made relying on the service a challenge for some residents. 

According to New York City Transit Data, the Bx40/42 had a ridership of 10,399 on an average weekday in 2021, making it one of the more populous routes in the Bronx.

“It will tell you some time and then the bus that comes is not in service” said Charleilys Vierea, a student at Lehman College. “Even if you come early or late to the stop, it’s still passing.” 

The Bx18 bus stop opposite the River Park towers complex. Imogen McNamara for The Bronx Ink.

Limited access to public transport is not a new issue for the occupants of the towers. A 2014 report from the New York City Department of Planning called the area “an isolated community”, citing the Metro-North rail corridor and the Major Deegan expressway as contributing factors, as they separate the community from the upland region. The report noted an ‘island effect’ between the community and the rest of the Morris Heights, an issue which persists today.

“The MTA is one of the best public transportation systems in the world,” said Tyreke Israel said, Deputy Chief of Staff for City Council District 16. “And that’s a horrible statement to say”.

 The community is a “transit desert,” he said. 

In the West Bronx, near River Park Towers, the MTA recently created new bus schedules and changed routes which were implemented this June in an effort to improve the reliability, speed and frequency of the service. 

“The redesign plan included a robust consultation process that incorporated the comments of elected officials, community organizations and riders,” MTA spokesperson Kayla Shuts said in an email.

Despite these changes, residents in the neighborhood say they continue to face problems on their commutes.

Vasquez said her son, who relies on the bus service to get to school, has to wake up two hours before the school day begins, and still sometimes arrives late.

Thinking about the months ahead, Vierea is worried about overcrowding on public transportation. 

“More people are gonna be on the buses and then it’s gonna become packed,” she said. “I’ll have to wait for the next one and the next one.” 

She is not alone. As the city moves towards colder months, temperature drops are cause for concern as commuters wait outdoors for public transportation.

Israel highlighted how difficult it is to overcome long-standing problems for the River Park Towers community. “It’s been this way for years,” he said. “Transportation deserts are a generational thing.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Front PageComments (0)

Morris Heights Residents Voice Concerns About Noise and Pollution as City Plans to Renovate Jennie Jerome Playground

Jennie Jerome Playground. New York City Department of Parks and Recreation

Community members in Morris Heights are asking the city to address noise and pollution as it begins the process of renovating the Jennie Jerome Playground. The park, located on Jerome Ave. near the Bronx Expressway, is getting a $4 million dollar facelift. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation held a scope meeting Wednesday, to discuss the  redevelopment.

“I don’t think there’s a way to mitigate the noise pollution from the (four) train because it’s elevated above the park and we’re just kind of used to that,” local education organizer Chauncy Young said. “It really is in a lot of ways, you know, a very small public park so you have to have something to draw people in.”

The decision to renovate Jennie Jerome Playground was announced in July, one of 10 new sites to be renovated as part of the Community Parks Initiative to renovate neighborhood parks that were hit hardest by the pandemic. A total of $425 million was allocated for the initiative, according to Peng Xu, landscape designer for the project. 

Many community members expressed their concerns at the meeting about noise and pollution in the playground, suggesting that the renovation add unique features to the park to mitigate pollution.

They also cited safety concerns regarding the traffic and transportation around the playground. Suggestions included moving the entrance to the park from Jerome Ave nearer to Townsend Ave and installing a traffic light.

“A lot of our children actually don’t go to this park, not only the highway pollution, the noise pollution, but there’s also a safety concern that our children are not the only ones that are in this park,” said Gladys Gomez, Parents Association president for school district PS 170. “This is a park that’s so near to the highway and there’s a stop sign rather than a traffic light on one of the crossways.”

Samantha Cardenas, chief of staff for city councilmember Pierina Ana Sanchez, indicated that Sanchez’s office was open to the idea of the entrance being moved. She added that Sanchez’s office would facilitate conversations with the Department of Transportation to install a traffic light.

“This is unfortunately one of the few parks we have and it is very very sadly stationed right above the Cross Bronx and next to the train,” Cardenas said. “However we can mitigate those would be ideal.”

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Families Suffer Under City-Led Housing Subsidy

Collar pictured with three of her seven children in their Morris Heights apartment.

Laura Collar fidgeted in place outside the fourth-floor courtroom in the Bronx Housing court on a Friday morning in September. The 34-year-old tenant waited to inform her landlord’s lawyer that she’d been granted another 12 days extension before they evict her from the Morris Heights apartment in the West Bronx where she lives with her five children.

A row of piercings protruded from Collars furrowed brow as she thought about what to do next. She had just 12 days to figure out why the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) had stopped paying her rent. Twelve days to figure out where she and her children would go if she could not convince the city agency to start paying again.

“HRA approved my case,” Collar said, digging through the mound of paperwork and documents in her tattooed arms that she has accumulated throughout her case. “How am I supposed to make sure they are paying?”

Her apartment is one of those currently subsidized by a city program called the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement (CITYFEPS). The program was created in 2014 to help families in homeless shelters move into permanent housing or low-income families facing eviction avoid becoming homeless. 

HRA agrees to pay a substantial portion of the family’s monthly rent — $1,560 in Collar’s case —  as long as the family continues to qualify for the program. However, families frequently struggle to find appropriate housing even with this supplement. CITYFEPS is currently being rolled over into the new Family Housing and Eviction Prevention Supplement (CityFHEPS) program, which combines a number of rental subsidy programs into a single program.

The program, designed to keep families off the street, is now the cause of some evictions. When Collar’s landlord filed paperwork to evict her in July, HRA was over $6,000 behind on its share of Collar’s rent. Court records also show that the agency failed to make any payments in August and September. 

This wouldn’t be the first time that Collar was evicted from the four-bedroom, three-bath, apartment because of an HRA mix-up. In October last year, she lost the apartment for a month when HRA fell over $16,000 behind on her rent, according to court documents. HRA had been sending checks to the wrong management company, and by the time the agency resolved the issue, Collar’s landlord had moved forward with the eviction. 

Having been told that the case should be resolved in a week, Collar and her children moved into her mother’s Staten Island house, where nearly 20 family members shared five bedrooms. It wasn’t until November of that year that the family moved back into their apartment. 

“It was traumatic,” Collar said. “We were cramped up in the house and [my children] missed school.” 

But, if it’s HRA who failed to pay, why evict Collar? Because landlords have no other option to recuperate their rent, said an attorney who asked that his name not be used to avoid unfavorable treatment from HRA in future cases.

“This court has no jurisdiction on city payments,” explained the attorney, who has 23 years of experience in housing court. Unlike the federal housing voucher system called Section 8, the city does not appear as a third-party on the lease under programs like CITYFEPS, meaning that landlords have no legal recourse against the city.

A tenant can theoretically do everything right, but if HRA makes a mistake or is late to process paperwork, the landlord’s only option is to file for eviction and let the tenant deal with HRA.

The burden of managing her own case makes it impossible for Collar to lead a normal life. She keeps a binder full of documents related to the various programs she relies on, and spends multiple days a week in the HRA office. 

“I could make a house in there,”Collar said, referring to Bronx Housing Court. “I go every day. I’m not used to this, I never had to depend of welfare before (moving to New York City). It’s just crazy.” 

Twelve days after her extension Collar was due back in court. However, she still had no answers from the city.

“I don’t know what is going to happen to me,” Collar said in a phone interview. “ I don’t have proof that (HRA) is going to pay…. They’re trying to put two and two together, but they’re at a standstill.”

Meanwhile, Collar’s case moves on. Her last-ditch attempt to get answers in person from HRA meant she missed her day in court. Normally, Collar would have defaulted and she would have lost her motion. The stay of eviction proceedings would have been lifted and the marshall would have proceeded with the eviction.

However, it was the first day of Rosh Hashana and Collar got lucky. Because of the holiday, the court  decided to forgive no-shows and simply pushed her case back another 15 days. 

Fifteen days for Collar to find answers. Fifteen days for her to make plans if not.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Housing, Housing injustice FHEPSComments (0)

Teen girl shot in Morris Heights – NY Daily News

An 18-year-old girl is clinging to life after being shot in the head Sunday morning, reports the Daily News. The Victim, whose name has not been released was shot while walking with two men at 2:15 a.m. near West Tremont and Grand Aves. She was rushed to St. Barnabas Hospital.

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A new digital divide? Tech volunteers say support, not access, is the problem

Geraldine Miner watches as volunteer Cate Burlington workes on her laptop. Other volunteers sit behind them. (C.J. SINNER / The Bronx Ink)

Geraldine Miner frequently uses her laptop to navigate around Facebook, play games and keep up with her two children and three grandchildren, and always tries to keep the virus software updated. Still, the 69-year-old checked in for help at the Tech Day being held on a Saturday in mid-November in her west Bronx apartment building to find out why her laptop’s processing has slowed down so much.

The all-day Saturday Tech Day, run by iGotITtoo, a technology outreach nonprofit that volunteers in 10 underserved communities around the city, was the second such event held at River Watch, Inc., a nonprofit outreach organization housed at Riverview Apartments in Morris Heights. Neighbors came by the building and dropped off their computers of different ages and sizes, some heaving large desktop setups over their shoulders. The 11 volunteers were trained to fix many computer issues and they came armed with coffee.

Tables of monitors filled the room and a bin full of mismatched and used internal parts sat on the floor. Power cords twirled on the floor and miniature tools were arranged by color and size in case an ambitious volunteer wished to take the screws off a device. Volunteers and iGotITtoo employees donned T-shirts that read “Smart is the new gangsta” on the back.

The group is responding to somewhat of a new digital divide, said iGotITtoo cofounder Santana Kenner. Low-income communities have more Internet access than ever because of lower prices for small laptops and smartphones. What they lack is affordable access to technical help and it often costs hundreds of dollars to diagnose and repair the machines.

“Normally, access is the issue people talk about, but that has changed. Now, it’s digital inequality – that’s the usage, the fluency,” Kenner said, adding that it’s common for users across the board to unwittingly trust every file download or game. Corrupted material often leads to problems. “We’re out that the underserved communities just don’t have the resources to get things fixed.”

Nationally, studies have shown that the digital divide, typically identified between ethnic groups, has been gradually narrowing since 2000, and a July report from the Pew Research Center showed that more blacks than whites owned smartphones. Morris Heights sits in Community District 5, which is almost entirely black and Hispanic, according to the city planning department’s latest data.

“People know that they should have access and they can get the access, but then sometimes they’re not sure what to do with it,” said Clare Chiesa, the other iGotITtoo cofounder.

Chiesa and Kenner started iGotITtoo in Lafayette Gardens in Brooklyn in 2007 because they were looking for a way to offer computer literacy classes to underserved communities and narrow the digital divide of access. In 2009, the group, whose name is a play on words for the abbreviation for information technology, received a $250,000 grant from Google to expand their reach. They now serve three locations in the Bronx as well as their original Brooklyn centers.

Chiesa said that at the first River Watch Tech Day in August, eight technicians fixed 25 computers in 10 hours. This time around, only 12 people brought their computers by, even though Chiesa said she expected growth.

Head volunteer Ilya Feldshteyn said he didn’t think the event was advertised well enough this time. Most of the flyers were only posted around the building or handed out around the neighborhood on the morning of the event.

Miner, who knew about the event because she sits on the board for River Watch and has taken computer education classes through iGotITtoo, has a laptop for herself and an older desktop computer that she lets her grandson use.

“He downloads all sorts of stuff, I don’t even know what’s on there,” she said. “But I don’t let anyone on my laptop, so I have no idea why it’s slow.”

Ilya Feldshteyn, left, shows what to look for on a computer. (C.J. SINNER / The Bronx Ink)

Free downloads and games are often the culprit, said Feldshteyn. Two-thirds of the issues he handles result from spyware and viruses. In fact, running a virus scan is the first step each technician takes when a computer is brought in.

“It takes a lot of time to fix, and we tell them not to do it, but it’s hard to change behavior,” Feldshteyn said. “We explain it to them, you know, please refrain from the free software and the free music, but they don’t listen very often.”

So the 28-year-old JP Morgan employee and other tech volunteers hunker down in rows of computers, running scans or digging for troublesome programs.

Afterward, Miner, who only brought in her slow personal laptop for repairs, said her laptop was working well, though she wasn’t sure what the technicians did to resolve the problem or how to prevent it from happening again.

“They just cleaned it out, I guess, and they took out whatever was making it slow,” she said. “They just told me to be careful about which websites I go to and downloading things.”

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Two found dead in apparent Bronx murder-suicide, NY1

Police found a man and woman dead in a Bronx apartment in an apparent murder-suicide, NY1 reports.

Investigators say they found Marie Jannette Lawrence, 30, shot to death in her apartment at 2084 Grand Avenue in Morris Heights Friday afternoon.

Batu McClary-Griggs, 37, was also found dead on the floor with a gunshot wound to the head.


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Gunmen Tie Up Family In Their Own Home, Wpix

Three men broke into a family home in Morris Heights on Sunday afternoon, tied up a father and his two children in a back room and robbed them of their valuables, Wpix reports.

The three Hispanic males forced their way into the apartment at 1705 Andrews Avenue at 2pm on Sunday. The man who lives there sustained minor injuries as he tried to stop the thieves from entering.

Once inside, the suspects brandished a gun as they tied up the victims and robbed the house of cash, jewelery and cellphones, police said.

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Neighbors rally to fight increased gun violence in Morris Heights

Neighbors look on as Assemblywoman Vanessa L. Gibson speaks about crime in Morris Heights. (DIANE JEANTET/The Bronx Ink)

Sandra Cuevas has already started looking for a new apartment — anywhere but Morris Heights, where her 20-year-old son was shot and killed 12 days ago.

The circumstances surrounding the death of her son, John Vasquez, are still unclear, but the shooting was the impetus for a “Community in Crisis” rally Wednesday night. About 100 neighbors gathered at a playground on Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx for a candlelight vigil to protest the rising rate of violent crime in the area and pray for the people they have lost.

“No one should have to live like this,” said Cuevas, 47. Her eyes were red and puffy from tears as she talked about her son. “I don’t want to live here anymore,” she said. “It’s too dangerous.”

According to the latest crime statistics from the 46th Precinct, which encompasses Morris Heights, there have been 15 murders so far in 2011, compared to nine at this point last year – a 66 percent increase. The number is up 7.1 percent since 2001.

Many shootings go unreported, said Jackie Mercer, 57, Vasquez’s paternal grandmother. Mercer has lived here for 21 years and said she’s steadily watched the violence increase. She’s also planning to move.

Vasquez was discovered shot in the torso at the intersection of Sedgwick and Cedar avenues at 2:21 a.m. on Sept. 24. A 56-year-old man had been shot in the arm and was transferred to Lincoln Hospital. The case is still under investigation.

Cuevas and Mercer said they’ve heard multiple stories about the altercation, but are adamant that Vasquez was not involved in drugs or gangs.

“It was an act of pure stupidity,” Mercer said. “He was a good kid, but he wasn’t a punk. He’d fight you, but he’d use his hands. Not like these other people.”

Cathy Stroud, executive director for River Watch Inc., a community outreach nonprofit, organized the Wednesday night rally and said the anger over the rising violence is justified.

“It’s almost like you are being held captive in your own home,” said Stroud, who has lived on Sedgwick Avenue for 39 years and is known in the neighborhood as Miss Cathy. “The seniors especially might as well have gates on their doors because they’re afraid to come out of their houses. They’re prisoners. And yes, it hurts.”

Stroud said she was disappointed at the event’s turnout. She’d hoped for hundreds more. Still, the ones that showed up were active, chanting “stop the violence, increase the peace,” over and over with Assemblywoman Vanessa L. Gibson, who emceed the rally from a podium at the center of a circled-up crowd.

Gibson, who lives in the area, said young people need “something better to do” than be on the streets late at night.

“There’s nothing positive in this community at 2 or3 a.m.,” she said. “Give them the education, give them the resources and tools they need to make better decisions.”

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