The Bronx needs to think big to combat the affordable housing crisis

New York City is facing an affordable housing crisis and nowhere is this more apparent than in the northernmost borough of The Bronx.

While the borough traditionally has had and continues to have some of the lowest median rents in the city, it is also a borough beset with economic hardships.

Hardships that contribute to it also having the highest poverty rate in the city and one of the most rent-burdened populations where residents pay well over 30% of their income in rent which exceeds the recommended guidelines for one to be able to have enough to cover other expenses and be able to also save for the future.

Estela, a two-building development with over 500 residential units in Mott Haven is anything but affordable.

Thousands of apartments have been constructed in the South Bronx neighborhoods of Port Morris and Mott Haven along the Harlem River Waterfront but unfortunately these are market rate, luxury housing—housing which residents in The Bronx aren’t clamoring for or in need of.

The construction boom that the South Bronx has experienced in this area isn’t one that is benefiting local residents who need it the most hence why many units remain vacant even years after completion of such luxury developments.

In order to solve this housing crisis that we find ourselves in, the city needs to speed up construction of truly affordable housing in the borough and this can be accomplished in several ways.

Utilizing Wasted Space

One of the first ideas that come to mind, and this isn’t a new one and has been floated by many over the past years, is for the city to take over all the underutilized parking lots between 149th Street and Yankee Stadium along River Avenue.

These lots can be rezoned to accommodate thousands of units of truly affordable housing which can benefit from being near a busy transportation hub like the 2, 4, and 5 subway line at 149th Street and Grand Concourse as well as the 153rd Street Yankee Stadium Metro North Station.

In a dense urban area such as the South Bronx, such parking lots are a waste of space that can be better utilized to help alleviate the housing crisis faced by the borough.

Meanwhile, a few blocks over along 149th Street at Park Avenue, a more creative solution to the crisis is possible if the State really wants to do something about it besides lip service.

Creating New Land

The Metro North railyards at 149th Street, where all three lines of the service East of the Hudson River converge, present an excellent opportunity to create a platform over them much like Hudson Yards in Manhattan.

Such a platform could also support thousands of new units of housing along with new, open, green recreational spaces that would benefit all.

Adding a platform above the Metro North rail yards along 149th Street and Park Avenue can potentially create thousands of new units of housing as well as much needed green open spaces.

A new, Metro North Station at this location, connected directly to the 149th Street and Grand Concourse station, would also make sense since this is where the Harlem, Hudson, and New Haven lines all meet.

The same can be done over the massive subway yard in the North Bronx right next to Lehman College.

And while we’re talking about creating new land, this is where capping the Cross Bronx can also come into play.

If parts of the Cross Bronx are eventually capped where it makes sense to do so, some of the new land should be utilized to create permanently affordable housing along with new park land that will help restitch those neighborhoods that were destroyed by Robert Moses during the construction of what would become one of America’s most congested highways and a major contributor to the borough’s health issues.

Doing so will right a wrong that left lasting consequences felt in the borough for over half a century.

Rezoning Along the Planned 4 New Metro North Stations

Of all the scenarios discussed so far, the only one that has the possibility of actually happening is the planned rezoning along the four new Metro North Stations that are to be constructed in the East Bronx as part of the Penn Station Access Project that will, for the first time ever, connect Metro North commuters along the New Haven Line straight into Penn Station.

What the area around the future Morris Park Metro North Station looks like and what it could be

The planned stations will be located in the Co-op City, Morris Park, Parkchester/Van Nest, and Hunts Point neighborhoods of the borough—areas that are considered transit deserts with limited access to rapid public transportation options and mainly have to rely on buses.

The city is taking advantage of this transformational project by recommending rezonings around the surrounding location of the future stations with a strong focus on the Morris Park and Parkchester/Van Nest sites.

East Tremont along the proposed Parkchester/Van Nest Station can benefit with new housing as well under the proposed rezoning plan.

If passed, it has the potential of creating of 7,500 new units of housing—housing which is desperately needed in the borough—that is centrally located around a transportation node.

Morris Park is the medical and life sciences heart of The Bronx and one of the largest such hubs in the city with, according to New York City Planning, over 23,000 jobs within half a mile of the future Metro North Station.

The immediate area surrounding the planned station, as well as spots along the East Tremont corridor near the planned Parkchester/Van Nest station, has many underutilized lots that can be better maximized to serve a larger population if rezoned.

But with this and any of the other possible pathways towards alleviating the housing crisis in The Bronx, all of them must have a commitment to not just “affordable” housing in name but truly affordable housing that local residents can qualify for.

Oftentimes, affordable housing is created but isn’t truly affordable to those in most need. One only needs to look at the current offerings on New York City’s Housing Connect in The Bronx to see that almost every single development on the site currently are market-rate luxury apartments disguised as affordable.

Also, affordable homeownership opportunities MUST be a part of all of these as we cannot simply rely on rentals to escape this crisis.

The rezoning around the future Metro North stations at Morris Park and Parkchester/Van Nest must also include options for affordable homeownership whether it be through co-op or condo ownership.

Offering rentals only is simply unacceptable and just continues to perpetuate the cycle of reliance on landlords for housing and all the issues that comes along with it including uncertain futures due to rent increases and the likes.

We have options to alleviate the housing crisis, we just need leaders and elected officials who have the will to think big and do the right thing.

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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.