The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Tag Archives: public health

Change is coming to the South Bronx

In the past week, both Crain’s New York and the New York Times have published articles hailing big growth in the Bronx. Three Cheers for the Blossoming Bronx, in Crain’s, discusses the growth in jobs, wages, and housing stock that are creating a near-renaissance in the borough that “just rings of New York.” It discusses the potential that the Bronx has to weather the economic storm and continue to develop throughout financial crisis. Government Can’t Help? Tell that to the South Bronx in the New York Times talks about the role that government agencies – specifically New York City agencies – have played in rebuilding and redefining the northernmost borough. Reaching all the way back to Ed Koch’s mayoral terms, the article praises New York City government for exerting such a positive influence on an area of the city that desperately needed its help.  They’re both good and hopeful articles, and it’s great to see such praise bestowed on what can sometimes feel like New York’s forgotten borough.

The Bronx is the only borough on the mainland and is therefore the only major shipping and transportation link between New York City and the rest of the state. 18-wheelers (full of all the stuff that more than 8 million New Yorkers want or need) creep along these highways and cover the borough in exhaust so thick that carbon monoxide levels are twice the national average and 38 points higher than the New York City metro area as a whole. Additionally, most of the trains in the Bronx travel above ground, further compounding the serious air-pollution problem.

And we obviously know, the housing is a mess. The residents who have secured decent housing have to spend exorbitant amounts of energy fighting to keep it decent. For many Bronx residents, ensuring that repairs are made and that they are not taken advantage of by scummy landlords consumes almost as much time as a second job.

That all being said, the Bronx has changed for the better. But the struggle for decent neighborhoods has many chapters left. (For example, neither article mentions what’s going to happen if this growth continues, and residents begin to get pushed out. Neither article mentions how – if at all – the city plans to protect affordability as the Bronx blossoms.) What I’m saying is that all those people working hard to make these celebrated changes in New York City’s poorest borough – which contains the nation’s poorest 2010 census district – should not rest on their laurels. The Bronx needs its politicians, residents, and advocates to consider serious structural changes regarding housing, transportation, and economic growth. Without this, the Bronx cannot deliver the safety and affordability that its residents deserve.

New York Daily News: Tenants at Bronx buildings with code violations given free health screenings

UHAB teamed up with SEIU Committee of Interns and Residents to facilitate free health screenings for tenants in distressed NYC affordable housing.

Even if your apartment is in bad shape, you don’t have to be.

That was the message doctors-in-training from local hospitals took to a Bronx neighborhood last weekend.

The resident physicians and interns organized free health screenings for tenants of two dilapidated buildings on Creston Ave. in Fordham.

Read more at New York Daily News.

Predatory Equity Makes Us Sick!

I think by now you get the picture:  Living standards for tenants in rent regulated buildings in the outer boroughs are shamefully low. It seems that definitions of terms like “habitable” and “quality” vary dramatically depending on your zip code. Although banks and landlords may fool people with cosmetic repairs that make the buildings appear “good…for the Bronx…”, this racist double standard cannot mask the serious public health concerns that result from wide-spread neighborhood disinvestment.

Tenants in buildings affected by predatory equity are often living in apartments with hazardous conditions that severely impact their health and safety. Problems such as persistent leaks, mold, rodent infestation, collapsing ceilings and floors, infrequent heat and hot water, faulty electricity, prevalence of lead paint and asbestos, and lack of security cameras and/or front door locks, are commonplace in these buildings.  These problems are bad in and of themselves, but when you think about the extent to which they have contributed to high levels of asthma, frequent dangerous accidents,  exposure to extreme weather conditions, and weakened immune systems (especially for children, elderly, and persons living with HIV/AIDS),  predatory equity seems even more criminal. Tenants additionally report high levels of stress, anxiety and depression due to the fear of losing their home, landlord harassment, and the financial burden of compensating for landlord or lender negligence.

Recently, UHAB has teamed up with the Committee of Interns and Residents, a union of health care professionals, to create a program which directly addresses the causal relationship between deteriorating building conditions and a growing health crisis. The program intends to provide tenants in distressed buildings with free medical screenings, services, and health resources on-site in their building. The program launched this month at 2239-41 Creston Avenue in the Bronx. We are hoping that this initiative will provide much needed relief for the tenants as well as build new alliances with groups committed to challenging the damaging costs of the lower standard of living.

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