The Bronx: A Major Housing Project Brings Hope and Fear

A building crane rises over Bergen Ave, for the big La Central project.  (Olivia Eubanks/NYCityLens)

Multiple cranes tower over 556 and 600 Bergen Avenue these days, in the Hub of the South Bronx, the shopping district in the heart of the neighborhood. Construction of the giant La Central low-income apartments project on Melrose is well underway. Such a massive addition will have a major effect on the neighborhood. Are local residents hopeful or fearful about those effects?

The project, which broke ground in 2013 and is expected to open next year, will have nearly a thousand units available to mixed-income families. Construction for phase one of the project began in the summer of 2017 and will include 161 units set aside for the formerly homeless with special needs. The next phase includes two buildings  with 496 units each, and will include a new Bronx YMCA and an astronomy lab run by the Bronx High School of Science. 

A $335 million investment of public and private funds is financing this new construction. Of the 496 apartments in each of the two buildings, 220 will be “permanently affordable.” The apartments will include one- to four-bedroom units. The project will also include a rooftop garden, a BronxNet TV Studio, and a Montefiore Medical Center Diabetes Prevention Program.

Despite its goal of providing affordable housing, Bronx residents are concerned about the price of the apartments for the low-income people anticipated to live there. According to the Daily News, some low income families making around $23,000 can expect to pay $640 a month, while at the other end of the scale, households making as much as $101,010 would pay $2,780. But the city has not released the exact rent numbers.

So some residents have their worries. “Affordable for who?” said Lynn Rodriguez, A 50-year-old Bronx resident. “I’ve seen many hardworking families not be qualified for these so called affordable units and move to a different state that is more reasonable with pricing.” Rodriguez fears the Bronx is becoming less and less family friendly to housing situations.

Despite her worries, however, Rodriguez is also hopeful: “Change can be a good thing for us,” she said, “but you have to blend everyone in mind to make it work.”

The founder and editor of the popular Facebook page “Welcome2TheBronx,” Ed Garcia Conde, also has mixed feelings regarding the new housing. “What are they going to do about transportation, it’s already crowded. How will we adjust?”

For commuters, the 2 or 5 train from the 3rd Ave./149th St. station takes approximately 30-45 minutes to get into Manhattan—if there are no delays. Complaints about transportation in the South Bronx have been an ongoing topic in Community Board meetings for the past few years. But although Garcia is worried about the commute complications, he is trying to have a positive outlook. “There is a possibility that this is a good thing,” he said. “People will finally have a chance at life.”

While some Bronx residents vocalize their concerns, others take to Facebook groups to vent: 

Bronx residents comments after seeing construction for the La Central housing project, on the Welcome2theBronx Facebook page. (Screenshot: Olivia Eubanks/NyCityLens)

Housing pressures have increased in the Bronx. Up until a few years ago the borough was considered one of the last strongholds in the city to have affordable housing for working class residents, as noted by  CNBC. Gentrification was slow in coming. But it has arrived.  In 2017, the Bronx had the highest percentage of households at risk for displacement—71 percent— of any borough, according to a study done by Regional Plan Association, an advocacy and urban research organization for economic health and environmental sustainability in New York.

Nine out of the top ten New York Community districts experiencing the highest percentage rise in price for residential sales were in the Bronx according to the annual report put together by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development. The office of the New York’s State Comptroller found that in 2018 the Bronx had a household poverty rate of 28.4 percent,  much higher than the citywide rate of 18.4 percent.

The Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, Alicia Glen, thinks the La Central development is a step in the right direction, toward ensuring that New York families in the middle to lower classes can have an affordable place to call home for decades to come.  “La Central was one of the first projects authorized under our mandatory affordable housing reforms, and it means nearly 500 Bronx families have a good shot at reaching and staying in the middle class.” she said.