South Bronx Residents Create ‘Statement of Principles on Private Development’ As Gentrification Creeps In

During the course of the past year, as speculative purchases artificially inflated values in the South Bronx neighborhoods of Port Morris and Mott Haven, area residents have been hard at work at developing a document of principles of which developers will be using to see how these companies are truly working with the community—or not.

South Bronx Unite writes:

The Mott Haven-Port Morris Waterfront and Statement of Principles for Private Development

Statement of Principles on Private Development

In response to the wave of real estate speculation threatening the South Bronx and that will open the doors to hyper-gentrification, we present below a Statement of Principles on Private Development.  These principles have been in the making for upwards of a year by members of the Mott Haven-Port Morris Community Land Trust (in consultation with experts in each area) in response to the decades of “development” without community engagement that has caused a health epidemic and now threatens mass displacement. As some of our elected officials choose to deny the existence of gentrification, many developers have already bought land, filed plans and erected buildings “as of right”, and many are not requesting any zoning changes, variances or government subsidies that would trigger wider accountability. Over the coming weeks, members of the community will be assessing adherence to these principles of each developer –  from Carnegie, Cheskel Schwimmer and Chetrit to Hornig, JCAL, Savanna and Somerset, among many others – and sharing the information publicly so that we can best direct the breadth of efforts to protect and uplift our community.

I. Jobs. As a community facing one of the highest unemployment rates in the city, we call upon all real estate development construction opportunities to be given to union workers (with preference to South Bronx residents) with a significant percent to be given through apprenticeship programs to South Bronx residents of color in all building trades. Commercial enterprises developed as part of real estate development should hire a significant percent of its long-term workforce from the South Bronx and pay at a living wage or prevailing wage standard, whichever is higher.

II. Housing. Guided by a history of disinvestment and displacement that caused the loss of 80% of South Bronx housing stock and where residents are now facing high rent and higher rent increases, we call upon all private developers in the South Bronx to set aside a significant percent of any new residential rental and for sale development for local residents at an affordability rate based on the current average median income of the South Bronx. We also call upon developers to provide ongoing contributions to an anti-displacement fund to develop tenants’ rights materials and outreach, to assess displacement-related impacts of development projects and to further affordable housing construction and other community needs.

III. Environmental Justice. As an environmental justice community facing severe health inequities (which cause asthma rates eight times the national average) from the decades-long over-saturation of waste transfer stations, fossil fuel power plants, industrial facilities and other diesel truck-intensive business, we back the Principles of Environmental Justice and the creation of green space and public waterfront access  and call upon all real estate developers to support the community-designed and -driven Mott Haven Port Morris Waterfront Plan (before ground is broken on their own development projects) as well as the reduction of the 850 acre significant maritime industrial area in the South Bronx, the largest in New York City, which currently restricts the community’s waterfront access.

IV. Empowering Local Arts, Artists, and Communities. We will enforce a new paradigm in the South Bronx that counters the cynical relationship between real estate and art, and that victimizes artists as disposable collateral. We will look critically at developers and creative clusters that more easily become mechanisms to employ our street and social credibility for dis-location and consumerist overcrowding rather than nurturing drives that weave themselves into the wider fabric and respect the character of the neighborhood in which they exist.  We insist that private developers and businesses sponsor and assist in nurturing our artistic community through anti-displacement strategies and initiatives such as: (i) community-driven projects to develop multi-use artistic venues and multi-sectoral incubators; (ii) funding for projects and entrepreneurial activities that feature artists in leadership roles and engage community members as equal partners; (iii) studio residency or work-space programs that focus on creative practice development for emerging artists; and (iv) funding for local small non-profit organizations that support artists of diverse disciplines, practices, cultural backgrounds and career stages.

V. Promoting Community Cohesiveness.  To prevent a tale of two neighborhoods from developing as a result of building high end residential developments along the waterfront edges of one of the poorest economic but richest cultural districts in the country, we call upon all developers to provide meaningful contributions to the broader community to bridge inter-connectedness, including support for community gardens and urban farms and space set-asides for community groups, youth and senior programming and other needs of the community.

VI. Local Economic Development.  We call upon all developers to enact a local South Bronx preference policy with respect to material purchasing, contracting, servicing, selling/leasing and all other business activities related to residential and commercial development in the South Bronx, including a significant percent favoring South Bronx businesses that are truly minority and women owned business enterprises (MWBE).

VII. Health Equity. Residents of Mott Haven and Port Morris suffer from high rates of asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. Because of these and other factors, life expectancy for community residents is 10 years less than that of residents of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Neighborhood conditions can play a key role in addressing these disparities, but without a deliberate focus on health equity in the planning and design of new developments, buildings and open spaces can unintentionally widen health inequities. Developers should analyze the health impacts of their projects, and use documents likeThe Active Design Guidelines  and Enterprise Green Communities Criteria to guide their design process to create spaces that promote health.

VIII. Public Private Projects.  With respect to private development projects receiving city subsidies, zoning variances, land use changes or in any other way involving the government and thus requiring community input and/or approval, these principles should be enforced with the full weight of the government, who should also ensure timely notice and meaningful public engagement in the planning, building and maintaining of such projects. Additionally, we would like to see the city work with affordable housing developers to erect more 100% affordable housing in the South Bronx, and all publicly-owned vacant and/or available real estate should be prioritized for community-driven development initiatives, including transferring such real estate to local land trusts.

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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.