Residents tell planners they want Southern Boulevard area left as is
City planners got an icy reception from South Bronx residents at a public forum to exchange ideas for developing a 130-block area between northern Longwood and Crotona Park in early March. When officials asked the public to weigh in on what changes they would like to see implemented in their neighborhoods, a roomful of angry residents raised their hands to provide one answer: None.
The March 7 meeting at the office of Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association in Longwood was the second since the beginning of the year to ask for local input in their hopes of transforming the mostly low-rise residential area. The meeting was organized by the Banana Kelly Resident Council, which is actively organizing a campaign to make sure there is no displacement called for in any study the city conducts.
But residents were having none of it.
“You can keep your bells and your whistles,” said Tahica S. Fredericks, 46, a Banana Kelly council member and former Brooklyn resident who moved to Longwood a year ago to escape rising rents. “Just leave us our housing and our dignity.”
“Who asked for this?” attendees asked repeatedly. “Not my neighbors,” another answered.
“We didn’t really come to ask questions,” Longwood resident Lisa Ortega told the planners. “We came to tell you we won’t take this.”
City officials maintain that a survey they circulated in late 2016, the Southern Boulevard Planning Study, is just a preliminary, information-gathering step that would allow them to understand and address residents’ concerns before they establish a plan. They tried to counter residents’ contention that the city has secretly made up its mind already to rezone the area, but residents said that rezoning is inevitable for a project of such a massive scale. Rezoning, they argued, would then lead to displacement of residents, as has happened in similar development projects around the city.
“This may not be a rezoning now,” said Katherine White, 26,“but it will be one in the future. Now that Brooklyn and Harlem are too unaffordable, you’re doing this here.”
“We’ve already seen this play out,” said Shellyn Rodriguez, 39. “There’s this trend with these community planning sessions, where there are all these ideas and buzzwords, but beneath it all is obviously real estate interests. We can’t all go to Pennsylvania.”
An official from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development countered that though her agency sympathizes with the plight of low-income residents, housing for New Yorkers with middle class incomes is also an urgent need.
“I hear a lot of frustration that these units are not affordable to people in the neighborhood,” said Bin Jung. “It’s a deep fear and we get it. But we want to provide housing that isn’t just low-income. We need mixed-income.”
Attendees shot back that their own fears were not being addressed.
“I grew up in the South Bronx and I’ve been neglected,” said Cecelia Grant, 57, pointing out that she’s been living in shelters for two years. “I’m retired and I get $17,000 a year. My question is, are you going to get me an apartment?” Grant received the largest ovation of the evening when she said, “We don’t need no coffee shops. We need BBQ. We need fish fries!”
Several residents remained skeptical of the city’s motives and complained that their questions were not being answered.
“How quickly can you get us clear information about everything that’s going on here?” asked Joygill Moriah, 22. “Can you get this information by the end of the month? Can you give us an entire dossier of what brings you here?”
The planners promised to provide answers at the next meeting, to the questions and concerns that had been raised, yet they got an earful despite the assurance.
“But we don’t want you here!” one woman yelled back.
After the meeting, members of Take Back the Bronx, a coalition of residents whose stated aim is to fight gentrification, hung up posters listing the group’s own proposals for transforming the neighborhood, including repairs for New York City Housing Authority apartments, rent freezes and more housing for the homeless.
Housing organizers handed out flyers announcing a public discussion, scheduled for March 30 at 6 p.m. at the East Bronx Academy for the Future at 1716 Southern Boulevard, titled “NYC Rezonings: Community Development or Government Sponsored Displacement.”
The story was updated on March 10 with a correction. The March 7 meeting was not organized by the Department of City Planning; it was called and organized by the Banana Kelly Resident Council.