Brooklyn’s problem is becoming Bronx’s, say advocates
The displacement of residents and businesses in Brooklyn and Harlem caused by skyrocketing rents should serve as a warning for other neighborhoods facing similar pressures, like Mott Haven. That was the sobering message explored at the Second Annual Gentrification Conference at the Bronx Documentary Center in late January.
Speakers at the conference said the neighborhood is become prohibitively expensive for longtime residents, while wages stagnate.
“With affordable housing, the question is who is it affordable for?” said Ed Garcia-Conde, a Melrose native and creator of the Welcome2TheBronx blog.
“You’re already starting to see a rise in rents at the Hub,” he said.
Although building affordable housing is crucial, said Anthony Winn, CEO of the Melrose advocacy organization Nos Quedamos, the city’s definition of the term and the reality facing residents are very different.
“The number one concern we have from folks who come through our door is housing,” Winn said.
To determine affordability for all city residents, housing officials use the median income of residents from the five boroughs and Westchester and Rockland counties as their yardstick. That translates to $83,900 for a family of four. And although $25,150 is set as the very lowest income for a family of four on the affordability scale, the average income for a family that size in Community District 1, which includes Mott Haven and Melrose, is just $21,663, according to recent estimates by the American Community Survey.
The Department of Housing Preservation and Development says it is doing what it can to correct the imbalance with several new projects. Eight small, city-owned lots in Melrose that now sit vacant are slated for development into affordable housing, as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Housing New York” proposal, announced late last year. Overall, the plan aims to add or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in the city in the next decade.
Each of the new developments would contain 15 or fewer apartments. In the aftermath of recent large scale projects like Via Verde and La Central, space to build on in Melrose is at a premium, the city says. A spokesman for the housing department, Eric Bederman, wrote in an email to the Herald that the new Melrose projects “will require that one-third of the units be affordable to low-income households” and moderate- and middle-income households could be added, as dictated “by market conditions.”
The success of a development should be judged not only by how much developers can earn, said Winn, but by its ability to keep renters in their homes.
When the documentary “My Brooklyn” was screened, questions were raised about whether the South Bronx should expect a similar fate.
“It’s too late to change downtown Brooklyn,” said the film’s director, Kelly Anderson. “But there’s a lot of places where the knowledge of what was learned could be useful.”