Source: GOVERNING magazine, Gentrification Data; Chart by Isabel Riofrio
Carolyn Waring, 65, who lives in housing supplied by the Banana Kelly Improvement Association in Hunts Point, has been living in the neighborhood for more than four decades. She saw the community changing from a danger zone of burning homes, crime and gang wars to a place of cleaner streets, a revamped food market, a thriving industrial park and a beautiful waterfront ideal for walks along the East River.
But the change brought displacement, as she sees it, with people moving in from other parts of the city.
“A lot of people used to be in this block, people knew each other, but now I don’t know that many people on my block anymore,” she said. “There were a lot of people we knew. Now there are a lot of people we don’t know.”
Home to one of the world’s largest food distribution centers, the Hunts Point Cooperative Market, Hunts Point is easily accessible from throughout Manhattan by subway lines and expressways. Maybe too accessible. As Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan transform rapidly, real estate developers have shifted some of their focus to the South Bronx. Hunts Point residents now worry that their neighborhood may attract too many new residents, pushing up housing prices. They want to make Hunts Point a model of revitalization, but without gentrification.
“I think that one of the advantages that the Bronx has is that it is now the last frontier,” said Donna Davis, director of resource development and communications at South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (SoBro). “We have the opportunity … to not repeat the mistakes or the challenges that some of the other communities have faced.”
Now that Hunts Point shows signs of an increase in development, one of the biggest challenges will be a rising cost of living. As in so many other city neighborhoods, when life gets better, property prices may start rising. That can be a good thing. Gentrification can provide incentives for property owners to improve housing – and for new developers to enter the market, rehabilitating homes and adding new units. In a wealthier neighborhood, crime may decline and local businesses may become more prosperous.
But the pros are followed by two major cons: increasing rents and a more expensive cost of living.
“Ten years ago, rent for an apartment for two people without children could be up to $800. Now it has risen to $1,200-to-$1,500,” said Lourdes Adams, 54, originally from Puerto Rico but a resident of Hunts Point for 30 years. “People come from Brooklyn escaping high rent, but here it keeps on rising.”
Once famous for empty lots and vacant houses, places for drug peddling and other criminal activities, Hunts Point is evolving. According to the United States Census Bureau, the housing vacancy rate since 2010 has been going down – to about 108 units in 2013 – a precursor to rising rents. Hunts Point’s neighbors in the South Bronx – Port Morris and Mott Haven – also have experienced sharp declines in the number of vacant housing units since 2010. In 2013, 67.3 units stood vacant in Port Morris and 85.6 units in Mott Haven.
Over the past few years, the South Bronx neighborhoods Port Morris, Mott Haven, and Hunts Point have seen a decrease in numbers of housing unit vacancies. But Hunts Point still leads with the highest number of vacancies compared to its neighboring communities and New York City.
The median home value in Hunts Point has increased more quickly than income. In some parts of the neighborhood the difference between a home’s value in 2000 and in 2010 was more than $100,000, when adjusted to 2013 dollars. To some, the trend is ominous.
“Right now it is a healthy mix of residential and commercial housing, but the need is for affordable housing,” said longtime Hunts Point resident Waring.
While housing prices are under pressure, household incomes are staying flat. Between 2000 and 2010, the median household income in Hunts Point has stayed relatively the same, when adjusted for inflation to 2013 dollars. The highest increase in income was of approximately $5,000. In other parts of the neighborhood, there was a decrease in the incomes. Some households were making approximately $2,000 less than they did in 2000 (see chart). Incomes must start rising if the neighborhood is to stay healthy, many advocates say.
“Even for the businesses here, they have to start paying the minimum wage,” said Josephine Infante, founder and executive director of Hunts Point Economic Development Corporation. “People have to understand that people have to live with a minimum wage.”
Higher-end companies are testing the possibility that some people in Hunts Point will have more money to spend. The Crossing, a 40,000 square-foot mall at the corner of 163rd Street and Southern Boulevard, will host the first Red Lobster restaurant in the neighborhood.
“One of the things that stands out is the Red Lobster, I just hope it works out,” said Ada Hill, 37, a stay-at-home mom living in the area since 1998.
More investors are taking a look at places like the Hunts Point Industrial Park. People are willing to invest in anything that is up for sale, said Infante, and spaces in the industrial park are filling up with more businesses. She said there is a proposal for a direct exit from the Bruckner Expressway into the industrial park.
“A lot of people used to be in this block, people knew each other, but now I don’t know that many people on my block anymore.”
Real estate developers are coming into the area to make money, not to protect the people who are already there. That’s the job of Hunts Point’s nonprofits. Working as a group, they can take on the big developers, said Waring.
“If they get together, they will have more leverage with the city,” she said. To the extent that nonprofits can influence housing policy, she said, housing groups “can build those properties and keep [Hunts Point] affordable for the people.”
The South East Bronx Community Organization has reserved low-income housing in the area and is working to provide affordable housing. The Spofford Detention Center, a symbol of juvenile brutality, has been closed and is being converted to a green space with affordable housing, a healthcare center and a cooking school.
But with recent development and more businesses moving into the neighborhood, keeping development under control will become an increasing challenge.
“I tend to look for changes in the people on the trains, but haven’t seen anything lately,” said Leidy H., 32, who moved to Hunts Point from Sunnyside, Queens. “It might take another five or six years.”
Nearly 75 percent of the people in Hunts Point between the ages of 18-24 have obtained a high school degree or less, while more than half of New York City’s population attended or graduated from college.
Read more stories in this project
Amazing Bronx River Flotilla in Hunts Point Riverside Park is just one example of community organizations that have a stake in the millions dollars of funding coming to Hunts Point. This money will go to many needs in Hunts Point from upgrading the food market to education. Learn more about the organizations poised to recieve funding here. (photo by Jessica Bal)
A family grills in Hunts Point Riverside Park during the 2015 Amazing Bronx River Flotilla. Hunts Point is categorized as a “green desert,”an area with only 75 percent as many chain supermarkets as a middle-income area. This lack of access to fresh food is one of the reasons why the South Bronx has the highest percentage of obese adults in NYC. Read more about nutrition in the neighborhood. (photo by Jessica Bal)
Residents say the neighborhood has been a vibrant place to live for years. A strong network of community groups have developed to fill in the gaps in service, and many exciting new changes are underway. Explore the Hunts Point neighborhood in this photo gallery. (photos by Jessica Bal and Micheala Ross)
Hunts Point avoided the worst predictions during Hurricane Sandy; the storm hit at low tide, which left the neighborhood’s peninsula relatively unscathed. But the projections for the next storm indicate that the Point’s large distributors, small businesses and food markets are at risk. Read about about how community members plan to protect the neighborhood next time. (photo by Jessica Bal)
A cooperative of immigrant-owned small businesses came together to help lower their costs in 2013. Now the United Business Cooperative is 30 members strong. The group spans across the South Bronx and northern Manhattan and is looking to expand to Hunts Point this summer. Read more about how these mom-and-pop shops say they’re using new strategies to strengthen their businesses as larger chains restaurants and new demographics come to the area. (photo by Micheala Ross)
New York runs on Hunts Point’s wholesale food markets, but aging infrastructure and the risk of coastal flooding have put them in jeopardy. Federal and city funding has been promised to help support this crucial distribution hub. We spoke to business owners at the produce, meat and fish markets to find out what they really need to keep feeding New Yorkers for years to come. (photo by Jessica Bal)