The government promises to Hunts Point are starting to add up. During his time as mayor, Michael Bloomberg pledged $110 million to the neighborhood for economic development. In March, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a 12-year plan to invest $150 million to upgrade the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center. The federal government kicked in $20 million for a resiliency plan focused on flood protection – a project that could end up costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Governments always put stipulations on how to spend such investments. But people in Hunts Point have a stipulation, too: that they should have a say in shaping their community’s development.
Interviews with neighborhood leaders show that while support for upgrading the food markets and protecting against floods runs high, Hunts Point has plenty of other unmet needs. “If we had our druthers and knew there was going to be an influx of investments coming to our community for social infrastructure, I would highly recommend that money going towards community based organizations,” said Kellie Terry, executive director of The Point, a nonprofit cultural and economic revitalization organization.
Terry said investing money into organizations like The Point helps the community as a whole because the organization provides things like a theater, a dance studio, a music studio and even invests in small businesses.
But Terry also said she would invest in public schools and early start programs to develop children’s skills, building on de Blasio’s city-wide initiative for funding early childhood education.
Carmen Ortiz would also like to see funding go towards educational programming. Ortiz is the elementary program coordinator at Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education, an after-school program that does everything from helping kids from kindergarten to 12th grade with homework to college prep to dance programs.
“I would like to see it be spent in more after school programs, to involve the kids in environmental awareness, to help education,” Ortiz said. “Also to give everybody the chance, because there are many kids that don’t have the opportunity to be part of any of the after-school programs that we have right now.”
Ortiz said many kids are not able to join after-school programming because spaces aren’t available. Waiting lists to join are overflowing.
At Flotilla, a boating event in Hunts Point meant to raise money for Bronx youth, Joselyn Sosa, an educator at the Bronx Children’s Museum, discusses why the Hunts Point community needs more funding, and where she thinks that money should go.
According to statistics aggregated by the Hunts Point Alliance for Children from the Department of Education and the Citizen’s Committee for Children, just about half of Hunts Point students are enrolled in early education programs that advocates claim are pivotal to educational success. In Hunts Point, about 34 percent of students graduate from high school on time.
“We cannot help all of them,” Ortiz said. “We want to but we need more space and more money. It requires a lot of work.”
Joselyn Sosa, a special education teacher at the Highbridge Advisory Council Family Services, a community-based service organization, said funders must recognize the needs of “daycares, preschools, public schools that don’t have enough funding, especially for the arts, for science.”
Sosa said many children are visual learners, but a high number of Hunts Point parents, who are working-class people, do not have time to take their kids to visual, hands-on places like the zoo. Sosa would like to bring these experiences to kids.
“Yes they can hear a teacher talking all day long, but they need things they can touch,” she said.
Medina Sadiq, executive director of the Southern Boulevard Business Improvement District, said unemployment and underemployment in Hunts Point is a major problem. The 2013 unemployment rate for Hunts Point is almost double that of New York City as a whole.
“People in the community really badly need employment, especially employment that pays above the minimum wage,” she said. She said she would like to see funding for programs that help people build their skills, and help with childcare, food and housing.
She said the way to go about this is not just job placement or job training programs, but services that help people with other issues, including addiction and housing.
“There needs to be programs that look at the whole person,” she said. “It is so important that people have their bare minimum needs met, and we are still struggling with that kind of thing in Hunts Point.”
“People in the community really badly need employment, especially employment that pays above the minimum wage.”
Investing in the environment is another opportunity to enrich the Hunts Point community, said Steve Engelbright, Assemblyman from the Fourth Assembly District.
Engelbright said the Bronx River is an important aspect to wildlife restoration in the Bronx. He called for “reclaiming some of the brownfields that have developed historically along the river edge and bringing them back into useful service as parkland and green space, as places where the citizens who live in the Bronx can become reintroduced to the environment.”
“The more the people of the Bronx understand the significance of this river, the more they will invest themselves into it, which in turn, will help drive public policy in the right direction,” Engelbright said.
People in the community are hopeful that eventually funding will come into Hunts Point for these programs, as well as for upgrading the food markets and flood protection.
“The Bronx is on the up in so many ways,” said Marcos Crespo, Assemblyman of the 85th District. “You’re seeing a lot of investment coming to the neighborhood. We have to invest in the people, and I think a lot of that is done through our community based organizations, housing improvements in the area, and safety improvements. It’s all about quality of life for the people of Hunts Point.”
Read more stories in this project
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)
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)
Hunts Point has changed from a community danger zone of burning homes, crime and gang wars to cleaner streets, a revamped food market, a thriving industrial park and a beautiful waterfront ideal for walks along the East River. But residents worry about the neighborhood’s fate as new people move in and are working to make it a model of revitalization, but without gentrification. Read more about the neighborhood housing market. (photo by Jessica Bal)
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)