Boro Prez Ruben Diaz Jr Denies Gentrification in The Bronx; Here’s Our List Proving Him Wrong

In the distance, The Beethoven Piano building where last month the Piano District Macabre Suite gentrification party was held and site of proposed one of several 25 story market rate residential towers.

This morning on the Brian Lehrer show, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr said that he thinks gentrification is wrong for our neighborhoods but when a caller by the name of Collin questioned him on what’s happening in our borough, Diaz became dismissive and rude. Here’s our list showing how gentrification is real and alive in The Bronx.

Here’s a brief transcript from this morning’s show (my comments in parentheses):

Collin: “I live in the South Bronx and went to a meeting Saturday night and about 100 or so people, young people, from around the borough came together to talk about issues surrounding gentrification. People are not happy at all especially with the political leadership that is going on right now from the Borough President’s office. We really think that he’s out of touch with what’s going on. People are being pushed out daily, people do not have services in the neighborhood, um, even um I’m a veteran I’m in unstable housing…”

Brian Lehrer cut in and said, “Speak to your borough president,” and Collin continued.

“Mr Diaz you need to wake up and see what’s going on The Bronx, people are not getting an education, people do not have jobs…”

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr responded by being dismissive and saying, “I think he’s misinformed unfortunately…about everything (when Lehrer asked about what part of what Collin said). First of all we’ve done 14 rezonings since I took office and no one can prove to me that there has been any gentrification…Lastly I want to say this, the individuals who have been against this proposal (Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Affordability and Quality) who have said that they didn’t like the Mayor’s proposal well we had a hearing that we didn’t have to have a week ago, I listened to more than 50 testimonies, over 300 people came out (a hearing Diaz Jr didn’t attend) and we voted unanimously against these. Now it’s incumbent upon the mayor, his leadership his city council person to strike these down so for him to come out and put out false information and say that I’m not listening is just not uh reality. With regards to the Mayor’s response what I would say is this, again we have not seen any gentrification in The Bronx….”

Afterwards Collin was asked to give specific instances and he asked if Diaz was in reality to which Diaz responded are you and Diaz insisted that it was not happening in The Bronx. You need to point to me where in The Bronx, like other parts of the city and in the country have we experienced gentrification, no one can prove to me that we force one community out to bring another one in.

He blamed Collin and said he wasn’t in reality and that there are unfortunately people with an agenda.

Diaz again said, “let me be clear, gentrification is bad and what we’re seeing here is that in that particular area first of all we’ve listened to the community and I’ve been against remaining it the Piano District and that is just not happening. In fact the developer has already said he’s gonna drop that cause and we’re happy about that…#2, the area there where they’re proposing market rate apartments, we believe in The Bronx that for decades what happens is that you get a professional working class that whenever they make it they whenever they get a good career they cut and run.

So Diaz really is totally out of touch and just as tone deaf as the gentrification party he attended last month which is heralding gentrification in our borough with the proposed 25 story residential market rate housing.

Mr Borough President Diaz, you asked for someone to point out that gentrification is happening in The Bronx, well here goes:

There are more instances to add to this list but it’s a start showing just how gentrification is already happening in The Bronx contrary to our Borough President who is the one that sadly is misinformed.

Then you have speculative purchases with properties being sold at way above market values for the neighborhood during the past year.

Take the following for example:

  • 304 Grand Concourse in Mott Haven sold for $3,250,000 on 10/8/2015 at $1,015 a square foot. The median price per square foot for the neighborhood is $166.
  • 221-227 E 138th Street (2 properties combined) in Mott Haven sold for $2,800,000 on 9/4/2015 with an avg of $559 per square foot where the median is $166 per square foot.
  • 148 E 151st/640-646 Gerard Avenue (multiple properties) in the Concourse area sold for $2,300,000 on 8/6/2015 with an avg of $796 per square foot. Again, the median per square foot is $166.
  • 458 Southern Boulevard in Mott Haven, a parking lot, sold for $2,250,000 on 5/15/2015 at $1,442 a square foot with a median for the area of $166 a square foot.
  • 198 E 135th Street, a vacant lot on the Special Harlem River Waterfront District sold for $15,470,000 on 5/12/2015 at $316 per square foot. Plans are to construct a 25 story market rate residential building on this land.

The above mentioned properties are all selling at 80% higher per square foot than the area average of $166 per square foot.

I didn’t even report on the speculative purchases happening at the Jerome Avenue Study area which are also considerably above market rate.

Last year The Daily News reported of a ‘Tenant Relocator’ who was harassing tenants to push them out of rent-controlled apartments so that landlords can get higher rents. The Daily News reports:

“Tenants of rent-controlled apartments say Michel Pimienta follows them, accuses them of illegal activity and pushes them to move out so landlords can score higher rents. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman got Pimienta to agree to pay a $40,000 fine and give up his ‘relocation’ efforts. 

On the frontlines of New York City gentrification, tenants of rent-controlled apartments view “tenant relocator” Michel Pimienta as a hired gun.

They say he threatens eviction, accuses them of illegal sub-letting — anything to get them out so the landlord can start collecting hefty market rate rent in gentrifying neighborhoods.

Over the last decade, he’s been accused of following tenants to work and questioning their colleagues about the tenants’ living situations. He’s allegedly told tenants the decrepit conditions they endure won’t be fixed anytime soon, so they might as well just get out.

And as of this week, he’s out of business.

Pimienta is the first casualty in state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s new campaign to end the scorched-earth tactics of so-called “tenant relocators.” Fielding dozens of complaints from frightened tenants, Schneiderman last week got Pimienta to agree to pay a $40,000 fine and give up his “relocation” efforts.

Schneiderman says Pimienta harassed tenants on the Lower East Side and in Gowanus, Brooklyn — both neighborhoods with raging real estate prices.

He alleges that for years, Pimienta operated illegally without the required brokers license in more than 60 rent-regulated buildings in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Tenants who’ve faced Pimienta are breathing a sigh of relief after years of alleged abuse. As far back as 2005, Pimienta was red-flagged by state regulators after harassing a tenant in the East Village by accusing him of running a brothel.” EXCLUSIVE: ‘Tenant relocator’ accused of harassing renters is put out of business by AG Eric Schneiderman

Then there’s the story of the landlord illegally jacking up rents on tenants:

“Tenants from a building in the shadow of Yankee Stadium have declared war on their landlord, accusing him of illegal and exorbitant rent increases they say are designed to force them out of their gentrifying neighborhood.

Eighteen residents of 1111 Gerard Ave., a six-story, 122-unit building near the Grand Concourse, say in a lawsuit expected to be filed Monday in Bronx Supreme Court the building’s owner has raised their rents by as much as 60% in recent years even though the biggest hike permitted for rent-stabilized apartments was 4.5%.

Even worse, according to the suit, the landlord is notifying tenants their units will be exempt from rent-stabilization laws starting next year when a 25-year, 421-a tax abatement on the property expires.

Lead plaintiff Emmanuel Yusuf said his rent was upped to $1,127 this year when it should be no higher than $895.” – Bronx tenants accuse landlord of illegal rent increases designed to force them out

And what about the harrassment in Kingsbridge surrounding the armory? CityLimits writes:

“Community organizations in the Bronx say residential and commercial tenants in areas around the Kingsbridge Armory and the proposed Jerome Avenue rezoning are seeing higher rents and more harassment.

“Many landlords seem to use lately as their business model pushing tenants out of their apartments, taking people to court when they don’t actually owe money, not providing services, threatening tenants who organize a tenants’ association or even something as simple as call 311 to make a complaint,” said Margaret Groarke, a member of the Northwest Bronx Community Clergy Coalition. “We want to say that we need to put a stop to this and we need housing court to take these reports of harassment seriously and do something to make it cost landlords when they harass tenants.” Development Spurs Tenant Harassment in Bronx, Groups Say

Even The New York Times has written articles about gentrification in The South Bronx so is Ruben Diaz Jr just ignoring all of this or just misinformed?

All of this together is the beginnings of gentrification and is what pushes rents up to where residents from within the areas can no longer afford them. It’s called the ripple effect. Same thing with our small businesses.

So yes, Mr Borough President, you do need to wake up, open your eyes and acknowledge that gentrification is indeed happening in our borough. You need to stop being so dismissive of your constituents for they are the ones on the ground experiencing it day to day. It is clearly you who is misinformed, not your constituents who are brave enough to call you out in public.

For Ruben Diaz Jr to partake in a gentrification party and and then deny that it is happening to us is an insult to our intelligence. For once, stop trying to defend yourself and humble yourself in listening to your citizens. Or is it the over $150,000 in real estate monies he’s received for his 2017 campaign run that has him flip flopping?

I can keep on with more and more evidence but rather than embarrass you, I’d like to educate you on your major faux pas this morning on the Brian Lehrer show by having the audacity to say gentrification doesn’t exist in our borough. And you are seriously considering a run for mayor?

The time for foolery is over and the time for you to act like a real leader is NOW.

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.