They had burned the building I lived in 4 times but my mother hung in there, she didn’t want to go into a shelter … It was like we had to leave; it was stay and die or leave and survive,” recalled Mary, a resident and active member of Banana Kelly, a community-led improvement association in the South Bronx.
Mary is one of the growing number of people in the South Bronx accustomed to the uncertainty of permanent housing. While places in Manhattan like Billionaire Row hold millions of dollars worth of unoccupied apartments, others like parts of the South Bronx are often left in the dark. Many struggle with the rising cost of rent and everyday risk of eviction or possible placement into a homeless shelter.
An analysis by Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) found that about half of renters are rent burdened, spending over 30 percent of their income exclusively on housing. With rent stabilized apartments vanishing quickly, lack of affordable housing forces many tenants to face discrimination or eviction; a result of deliberate policy and design.
Jose Rodriguez has been displaced 10 times from different places in the Brooklyn area. “What I mean by displaced is that every time it was time to renegotiate my lease, I couldn’t afford to pay the increase. The increases were beyond my means. So I had no options but to pack up and to move on,” he said.
Rodriguez’s story is one shared by tenants all across the city. Seventy-one percent of the Bronx’s residents are at “risk of impending displacement”, a study from the Regional Plan Association finds. With rents skyrocketing and incomes stagnating over the past decade, an increasing number of working class citizens seek government housing and section 8 vouchers; a program designed to assist lower income families who make below a set yearly income.
Government has taken small steps to alleviate the housing crisis. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio announced plans to build 300,000 new affordable apartments by 2026. The city continues to pour funds into the shelter system; despite lack of strong evidence proving its effectiveness.
According to the Coalition for the Homeless, it costs the city $99.46 per day for a single adult staying in a shelter and $126.84 for a family. An estimated 62,498 people stay in shelters every night. Billions of dollars are lost to this practice which has been deemed less affordable than providing permanent housing for this population. In addition, refusal of vouchers and section 8 housing dominate rejection reports and force the homeless to stay in shelters.
Laws like the Fair Housing Act passed in 1968 aim to combat discrimination in the housing market. But organizations like the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) still receive phone calls every day from individuals whose realtors have refused their section 8 vouchers.
Discrimination is not the only thing to disrupt neighborhoods. According to FHJC, New York City is the third most segregated city for African Americans in the United States and the second most segregated city for Asian Americans and Latinos. Rezoning, investment and gentrification are all shown to displace the most overlooked populations in society. “We are still so separated by race and economics and those disparities are going to keep those neighborhoods from being treated the same way and having the same opportunities,” said Fred Freiberg, executive director and co-founder of the Fair Housing Justice Center.
Where you live impacts your life in profound ways. It determines your access to income, it determines your access to education. It can determine what kind of healthcare is offered to you, it can even determine your susceptibility to certain diseases and health conditions, it even impacts your longevity and the length of your life.” said Freiberg.
"And so no one can ever say it that it doesn't matter. It profoundly matters where you live and whether you have an opportunity to live in any neighborhood,” said Freiberg.
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