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New Building for BCC

November 5, 2008

Bronx Community College (BCC) broke ground last month on a new $102 million building, which will house a huge library, classrooms, a lounge, and more.  It’s being designed by Robert A.M. Stern, an esteemed architect whose work is more often associated with Yale University. Construction is expected to wrap up in 2011.

The North Instructional Building and Library is the first academic building to be built on the campus since BCC moved in to replace New York University in 1973. Today, more than 9,000 students are pursing degrees at the college, a 30 percent increase since 2001.

“As our enrollment grew, we needed a new building,” said BCC president Carolyn Williams, at the groundbreaking ceremony. She called it “a symbol of our commitment to provide the best for our students.”

Crime Watch, November 2008

November 5, 2008

Officers Injured in Crash 

Two police officers from the 46th Precinct were injured when their patrol car collided with an SUV, on Oct. 26. The crash took place at just after 3 p.m., at the intersection of West Burnside Avenue and Davidson Avenue. The officers were extricated from the vehicle and taken to St. Barnabas Hospital, with non-life threatening injuries. One witness at the scene claimed the patrol car had its emergency lights on, but no siren.

Man Shot Dead 

A 38-year-old man was shot dead in front of 1721 Grand Avenue (near West 176th Street), on Oct. 22, at around 10:30 p.m. Canty Cordero was shot in the head and torso. He was taken to St. Barnabas Hospital where he died from his injuries. As of Oct. 31, there had been no arrests.

A Year Later, Murder Still Unsolved

On Nov. 7 last year, Jacqueline Irizarry, of Crotona Park, was viciously attacked and then thrown off the roof of a six-story apartment building at 110 E. 177th St. Police pronounced her dead at the scene. The 21-year-old, the mother of a young son, had been stabbed multiple times. 

A year has now passed, and no arrests have been made. The murder remains unsolved. At the time, police sources told Newsday that the death appeared to be connected to drug activity. But Irizarry’s brother told the newspaper that his sister wasn’t involved with drugs. “That’s the million-dollar question: What was she doing up there?” he said. “She doesn’t know anybody in that area.”  The investigation is ongoing.  Anyone with information is asked to call CRIMESTOPPERS at (800) 577-8477.

Mitchell-Lama Buildings Continue to Vanish

November 5, 2008

This fall, tenants living in 1520 Sedgwick Avenue lost their 18-month battle to keep their building, the “home of hip-hop,” in the Mitchell-Lama affordable housing program.

Since 2005, 15 Bronx apartment buildings have lost their Mitchell-Lama status, according to Amy Chan, of Tenants & Neighbors, an advocacy group. But the Sedgwick building, a 100-unit tower block in Morris Heights, has received special attention because of its musical legacy.  In the 1970s, the building was home to Jamaican immigrant Clive Campbell, aka DJ Kool Herc, a hip-hop pioneer, who’s credited with inventing the genre at parties in the building’s community room.

1520 Sedgwick

With support from housing advocates, 1520 Sedgwick’s tenants made various attempts to stop the Mitchell-Lama “buyout.” They held several press conferences, got Campbell and New York Senator Chuck Schumer involved, and launched a Web site, www.save1520.org.

Tenants even tried to buy the building themselves, with help from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). But their $10 million offer was turned down. This September the building’s removal from Mitchell-Lama was confirmed, when the landlord paid off the mortgage and sold it to Mark Karasick, a wealthy real estate developer. 

The Mitchell-Lama Housing Program was founded in 1955. Under it, landlords receive tax abatements and other financial incentives if they agree to keep rents low. After 20 years, landlords can choose to leave the program, providing they pay the remaining mortgage. They can then sell their buildings to investors – who, in recent times, have been offering vast sums of money.

In the last three years, the Bronx has lost 3,424 Mitchell-Lama apartments, according to Tenants & Neighbors. Only 9,863 units remain in the program. “This is a huge loss for the Bronx,” Chan said.

Buildings built before 1974 (like 1520 Sedgwick) automatically fall under rent stabilization laws when they leave the program.

But rent stabilization won’t necessarily keep rents down, as there are many loopholes a landlord can exploit, say housing advocates. For instance, they can make building repairs – Major Capital Improvements (MCIs) – and pass some of the costs on to tenants.  And they can jack-up each apartment’s rent by 20 percent each time it becomes vacant.  Also, when an apartment’s rent hits $2,000 a month, rent stabilization no longer applies.  

Laurence Gluck, president of Steller Management, a large real estate corporation, has purchased a number of buildings across the city in recent years, and removed them from the Mitchell-Lama program. In 2006, Gluck purchased 1889 Sedgwick Avenue, a 13-story building just south of Bronx Community College.  He also bought 1655 Undercliff Ave.

Tenants at the Undercliff property, which is in Morris Heights near 1520 Sedgwick Ave., say they’ve already seen small MCI-related rent increases.

Dina Levy, of the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, a tenants rights group, believes Gluck and other investors, like Karasick, will sooner or later increase rents significantly – if they can. Otherwise they won’t profit from the buildings, for which they paid handsomely.

If landlords can’t find a way to sneak up rents, they may struggle to pay for the buildings’ upkeep, says Levy, meaning conditions could deteriorate.  Either way, tenants lose out, she says.

Horace Orton, a resident of 1655 Undercliff and the president of the building’s tenants association, says that the buyout itself frightened a number of tenants into leaving. Some chose to move in with family members, he said; those nearing retirement left for warmer parts of the country, like Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina.

In all, 15 to 20 of the building’s 124 apartments became vacant, says Orton, allowing the landlord to raise the rent in each apartment by 20 percent. MCIs carried out in these units upped the rent still further.

The “home of hip-hop,” 1520 Sedgwick Ave., will most likely face similar challenges. Orton offered his two cents on what tenants should do. “They need strong leadership and [they need] to know the rules and regulations,” he said, so they can avoid being taken advantage of.  

Though it has been three years since his building’s removal from the Mitchell-Lama program, Orton says that they are “still not out of the woods.”

By REBECCA CHAO

Residents Air Concerns About Housing for Mentally Ill

November 5, 2008

At a public hearing on Oct. 29, Morris Heights residents voiced their concerns about an apartment complex that will soon go up in their neighborhood. It will be built by Community Access, a non-profit organization that focuses on assisting psychiatric or mentally ill patients’ integration into communities by providing affordable housing and support services. 

The organization has 13 properties in the city, three of which are in the Bronx.  One is at 1363 Franklin Ave., another at 772 E. 168th St., and another at 1750 Davidson Ave., which opened last year. 

Their latest project at 1854-1874 Cedar Ave. will consist of 51 units of affordable housing for families, and 60 studios for special needs tenants with psychiatric disabilities.

No construction timetable has been set. Community Access is currently in the process of acquiring the land.

About 20 people attended the public hearing which was held at nearby IS 229. Residents who spoke said they’d prefer the building, and its tenants, be put elsewhere.

“We are a very vulnerable population,” says Cheryl Francis, who’s lived in neighborhood for more than 20 years. She said the project will “negatively affect the stability of the west Bronx community that we have worked so hard to sustain.”

Martha Hunter, a resident of 1889 Sedgwick Ave., worried that some of the tenants would be sex offenders. Sandy Lowe, Community Access’ community relations manager, replied that everyone would undergo a screening process and background check.

Another local resident asked why Community Access would want to put psychiatric patients so close to highways and bridges, where they could not only harm the community but harm themselves.

David Fuller, Community Access’ program director at the Davidson building, called these remarks “hurtful.”

“These people are very functional,” added Steve Coe, Community Access’ executive director. “They just want their own space. They are no different than you or I.” Coe said that in the many years he’s worked for Community Access, he’s never received a complaint about their tenants. 

A reoccurring question among community members was what benefits, aside from the 50 units of affordable housing, the project could bring to the community. Coe insists it will bring employment opportunities. He said Community Access would hire local construction workers to help with the construction.

But Anthony Reid, a General Building Laborers Local 79 organizer, says that Community Access doesn’t provide training or health benefits for construction workers. “Training is what makes the community marketable,” he said at the hearing, because without training, laborers will go back to square one – unemployment – once the project is finished. To benefit the community in the long run, Reid believes Community Access should provide state certified apprenticeships.

Coe continued to defend the project. “I don’t think we’re bringing problems,” he said “It’s a great thing… a beautiful building.”

Community members present disagreed. “The community is destabilized,” said one man who stood up to speak. “We’ve got crime, drugs. Why does this only come to us? Why not affluent areas? We’re trying to survive here.”

“You just want to dump in our community!” another lady shouted from her seat. Enthusiastic applaud followed.

Residents wanted to know why Community Access, and others, so regularly choose the west Bronx for “supportive housing” projects – buildings that house special needs populations, such as the homeless, the mentally ill, people with HIV/AIDS, and drug addicts.

Frances Rodriquez, director of Roberto Clemente State Park, said she welcomes all types of people to the community. But that “the community has become saturated.”

Community Board 5 board members and District Manager Xavier Rodriguez say they’d prefer to see affordable housing built, or schools, or parks -  projects that improve the quality of life of working families already residing in the area. 

By REBECCA CHAO

Castro Hoping to Secure Assembly Seat

November 5, 2008

In the excitement over the presidential race, local races have been somewhat obscured to say the least. But there are local races for Assembly, state Senate and Congress, despite their low profile and the usual lack of competitiveness in a heavily Democratic borough.

Like the presidential election, these local elections are being held on Nov. 4, the day this paper is published.

Of particular interest in Mount Hope, is the race for the 86th Assembly District, where Nelson Castro is hoping to become the first Bronx assemblyman of Dominican origin.

Here’s a full list of local races and candidates:

28th Senate District: Jose M. Serrano (Democrat-incumbent); Keesha Weiner (Republican)

33rd Senate District: Pedro Espada (D); William Sullivan (Conservative)                                                                         

16th Congressional District: Jose Serrano (D-incumbent); Ali Mohamed (R)                                    

79th District: Michael Benjamin (D-incumbent); Sigredo Gonzalez (C)

86th District; Nelson Castro (D); Lisa Marie Campbell (R)

77th District; Aurelia Greene (D-incumbent); Anthony Curry (R)

To find your polling station, go to www.vote.nyc.ny.us and click on the poll site locator button (second button at left). To make sure you’re registered, check www.canivote.org (a national site that checks local registrations across the country). And www.866ourvote.org has tons of information state-by-state on your voting rights and what to look out for.

By JAMES FERGUSSON. Additional reporting by JORDAN MOSS.

New HQ for the Citizens Advice Bureau

November 5, 2008

CABThe Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), a non-profit that works to improve the social and economic well-being of Bronx residents, is building a new administrative headquarters at 60 E. Tremont Ave., near Morris Avenue.

“I’m very excited about the creation of our new headquarters,” said CAB executive director Carolyn McLaughlin in a statement. “This reaffirms our commitment to this neighborhood.”

On Oct. 27, McLaughlin (pictured) and others attended a groundbreaking ceremony to announce the start of construction. 

If all goes to plan, the two-story building will open next summer.

 

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