Examining the Potential Impact of Jerome Ave. Rezoning

Carmen Vega-Rivera is one of several hundred activists fighting for deeper affordability along Jerome Avenue.
(Photo by David Cruz via Norwood News)

Across New York City neighborhoods, zoning changes that the city has proposed to bring more affordable housing to neighborhoods are being debated, and often criticized by many residents who believe that they will not be the ones to benefit from improvements, thanks to formulas that tend to exclude those with low incomes. David Cruz of Norwood News takes a long and nuanced look at the zoning changes planned for the 92-block length of Jerome Avenue in the Bronx.

He spoke with Carmen Vega-Rivera, an activist with the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision (BxCCV) and a Bronx resident on the Grand Concourse for 37 years, who worries about where her children and grandchildren will live.

Writes Cruz: “Affordability, after all, is a relative term.” The city will require developers to set aside some apartments to rent to those with 60 percent Area Median Income (AMI), or $51,540 for a family of three, while some will be set aside for lower income earners, those earning 30 percent AMI, or $25,770 for a family of three. Yet a third of the residents live in poverty earning less than $21,000 for a family of three.

This has led Vega-Rivera to conclude that new housing is not intended for the existing community, including the rent-burdened. Worse, new housing at the rates proposed by HPD can lead to a speculative jump in rents around the area prime for rezoning.

“If you’re making $20,000, even $40,000, where you going to move? Can you pay the $2800? Can you pay the $3200?” asked Vega-Rivera, referring to the types of rents she’s been inquiring about in her area in the last few months.

Still, notes Norwood News,

Rezonings are usually followed by positive change. For Jerome Avenue, that includes upgraded sidewalks, street trees, benches, lighting, and major, multi-million dollar renovations to parks, including Aqueduct Park, Mt. Hope Garden, and Grand Avenue Playground.

Vega-Rivera looks upon these changes with satisfaction and resentment. On one hand she’s content with the city taking a closer look at what’s needed, which include more open public spaces and a plan to fix the infrastructure. But on the other hand, these changes come with strings attached.

For Vega-Rivera the city appears to engage in an unspoken exchange policy where new amenities come in exchange for affordable housing that’s not quite affordable to the current masses. Rezoning usually spurs development, but at the expense of dangling positive amenities she believes won’t be enjoyed by the existing population. Change is good, but only on the community’s terms, according to her. “It shouldn’t be a tradeoff…and say that the developers can’t build real affordable housing for those that need it. That’s no tradeoff for me. That’s what pisses me off,” she said. 

Norwood News’ Cruz explores how rezoning can unspool a whole array of effects that lead to displacement.

“The people who qualify for ‘affordable’ housing are people who make more than a lot of people who actually need it,” said Gregory Jost, adjunct professor of sociology at Fordham University. “The formulas are kind of set up to benefit certain people and not others. And then what happens is that those who don’t benefit, which are a lot of people in the neighborhoods where there’s a lot of targeting for, like, rezoning, feel completely shut out, because the rezonings trigger a whole wave of speculative investment, which then triggers displacement.”

Go to Norwood News to read more about what area residents and local politicians have to say, as well as some historical perspective of the negative impact of earlier rezonings from urban planner and former Hunter College professor Tom Angotti.

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