Bronx Housing Program Sees Affordability Threatened

by Janet Sassi

New York City’s poorest renters are being priced out of other boroughs and are moving to the West Bronx, one of the last bastions of affordable housing in the city, according to Gregory Lobo Jost, deputy director of the University Neighborhood Housing Program (UNHP), speaking at the 2007 Affordable Housing Forum, on March 27 at the McGinley Center, Rose Hill campus.

Jost said the average rent on a one-bedroom rent-stabilized apartment in the Bronx remains the lowest among the five boroughs. But the UNHP’s report, “Shrinking Affordability”, warned of the need to preserve such rents before they completely disappear in a city where the average vacancy rate has been steadily dropping.

“The question is: Who will be able to live in the Bronx in the next ten years?” he said. “Preservation of affordability needs to be the cornerstone of public policy and housing dollars.”

Jost cited a trend that shows an increase in the percentage of household income going toward rent. Among the areas of Highbridge/South Concourse, Morrisania/Belmont and Kingsbridge Heights/Mosholu, renters paid their landlords between 40 and 46 percent of their household income. At the same time, the median annual income of residents moving to the Bronx has dropped as median annual incomes of new residents in all the other boroughs has risen.

“While the rents in the West Bronx corridor are among the lowest in the city, they are still barely affordable to neighborhood residents who to often pay more than half their income on rent,” he said.

The UNHP is a Community Development Financial Institution that was created by Fordham University’s Board of Trustees in 1983 to help build, preserve and finance affordable housing in the Northwest Bronx. The UNHP report presented demographic trends in household incomes, vacancy rates and prices per unit for Bronx multifamily housing. Panelists from the private, public and nonprofit sectors commented on the report following its release.

Frank Anelante, CEO of Lemle and Wolff Real Estate and owner of 8000 units of housing, said that, as a landlord, the city’s “onerouos” rehabilitation requirements leave building owners with very little discretionary income on “affordable housing” projects. “If it costs me $479 per unit to operate, and I can only get $600 rent, there is a squeeze on guys like me,” he said.

The UNHP called for more public, private and nonprofit assistance tools and increased oversight of city credits to landlords. Director Jim Buckley (FCRH ’76), said that, as a Fordham undergrad, he recalled “the smell of smoke” permeating the West Bronx when the neighborhood was plagued with abandoned buildings and arson fires. “A remarkable recovery happened in this borough,” Buckley said. “And many of the people in this room deserve credit for its success. But we don’t want to rest on our laurels. We want to keep reasonable, affordable rents, and keep the neighborhood safe for the folks who live here.”

The UNHP maintains an office in the Bronx and can be reached at (718) 933-3101.