Open Letter to Mayor de Blasio and NYC Council Speaker Johnson in Opposition to A New South Bronx Jail

The Diego Beekman community of Mott Haven penned an open letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on the city’s plans to construct a new jail in the South Bronx.

As you may already know by now, Mayor de Blasio made a unilateral decision, without even asking the community, to place a jail at 320 Concord Avenue, the site of the old Lincoln Hospital right off the Bruckner.

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This would place a jail not just directly in front of a residential community but would continue the city’s long practice of utilizing the South Bronx (and The Bronx as a whole) for everything that other communities do not want.

The South Bronx and our borough will not continue to be a dumping ground.

The open letter is as follows:

Dear Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Johnson:

We are writing to you to express our opposition to your planned siting of a future jail facility at 320 Concord Avenue, steps away from the storied Diego Beekman community and surrounding neighborhood, which includes homeowners as well as the elementary school P.S. 65 Mother Hale Academy.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, the South Bronx underwent devastating changes as concentrated poverty and abandonment spread across the borough’s neighborhoods. In 1974, HUD developed the Beekman Housing by renovating 38 pre-war apartment buildings into a privately-owned Section 8 housing project.

Over the next two decades, the Diego Beekman complex and the neighborhood fell into disrepair from owner and government disinvestment that destabilized and devastated the entire neighborhood. The community faced high levels of unemployment, failing public institutions, environmental challenges, and the significant loss of economic vitality when Lincoln Hospital, the Farberware plant, banking institutions, and other key manufacturing facilities closed.  A violent drug cartel (“the Cowboys”), crime, and widespread drug sale and distribution took root in our buildings, resulting in the destruction of families and the significant loss of life.

Beginning in the early 1990s, residents began to organize to address the deteriorating conditions in the development. HUD took over Diego Beekman in 1996 and began the rehabilitation of the development, transferring ownership to the non-profit Diego Beekman Mutual Housing Association in 2003. The Diego Beekman Board, a majority of which were (and are) tenants, financially stabilized the community, improved security, and aggressively addressed quality-of-life issues as well as maintenance and upkeep.  During this same time period, three hundred Nehemiah two-family homes were built on vacant lots surrounding Diego Beekman to further stabilize the neighborhood.

Building upon our successful, twenty-two year struggle to stabilize the housing complex and the surrounding community, Diego Beekman has embarked on a painstaking grassroots and neighborhood-based process to create a new neighborhood development and revitalization plan.  The Diego Beekman Neighborhood Plan was formed over the past two years in consultation with community residents, organizations, City agencies, and local elected officials. Along with a series of transformational investments in services and the physical environment, the Plan includes three sites for housing development, a much-needed supermarket, retail space, light manufacturing, and other civic resources—and one of the three sites included in the plan is the lot at 320 Concord Avenue.

The Plan would create affordable housing, jobs, and substantial economic development opportunities, all of which would benefit the residents of this community and revitalize the entire neighborhood. Overall, the Diego Beekman Neighborhood Plan would include more than 700 new homes for low-and moderate-income households, a new retail center, community space for new senior, youth, and early childhood centers, and affordable senior housing with a portion of units set aside for formerly homeless residents.

The centerpiece of the Plan is the transformation of the lot at 320 Concord Avenue into a new anchor for the community.  At this site, our plan would create a new supermarket, 533 residences, with affordability ranging from 30% to 120% of AMI, 22,000 square feet of community facility space, and 100-200 jobs in a 58,000-square-foot, multistory manufacturing facility. The Plan would address critical and community-wide needs for housing, employment, retail, and community services, investing in the community where we need it most.

We support the goals motivating the effort to close Rikers Island — to make the conditions within our municipal jails more humane and to support the swifter administration of justice, especially in the borough of the Bronx. However, this progress should not be made at the expense of a single neighborhood that has historically been over-saturated with facilities and challenges that other areas of New York City have not wanted to deal with, such as the waste transfer stations, sewage treatment plants, industrial/commercial facilities, and the siting of excessive homeless shelters and drug treatment programs. For example, four fifths of the shelter beds located within Bronx Community Board One are located within a few blocks of Diego Beekman and the jail site.

We are extremely offended by the lack of respect for and engagement of the community in the process for siting the jail. It is hard to imagine how siting a jail in this neighborhood, given its history, would directly benefit this community. We believe the siting of this jail in our community would be a significant setback to our decades of struggle to stabilize this housing stock and the community at large. We are particularly concerned given the extensive and thoughtful planning that we have done to develop a revitalization plan for our neighborhood that would have such a positive impact on the community.

Why should this neighborhood continue to be disenfranchised and unfairly burdened with a new jail facility while other neighborhoods surrounding this community receive major economic revitalization initiatives, new housing development, and jobs? Additionally, we have questions with respect to how a jail facility on this site would impact the revitalization plans we have been working on so extensively from 1996 to the present. How is this not another setback for the residents of Beekman and the surrounding community that have time and again fought off blight, neglect, and crime?

The community is holding a town hall meeting on Thursday, March 8th at elementary school P.S. 65 on 141st Street, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. to discuss this issue, and we would like to invite you and the community at large to join us for this important event.

Sincerely,

The Diego Beekman Mutual Housing Association, HDFC (Jose de Diego Beekman Houses)

The Nehemiah Homeowners

The Concord Avenue/Jackson Avenue Homeowners

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