There Used To Be a Neighborhood

Harlem-River-Yards-Day-1024x540
Photo: Rafael Viñoly Architects

What if they built a gorgeous new stadium down the block from your home, turned the place into an honest-to-god destination and elevated your community — but it wasn’t your community anymore?

What if they let the housing rot, the boilers burst and the schools disintegrate because they said they couldn’t afford to fix them — but then they forfeited hundreds of millions of dollars by intentionally undervaluing the land and handing massive property tax breaks to developers?

What if, in theory, they built “550 units” of affordable housing — but, in practice, the apartments only housed outsiders who earn double what you do?

And what if they named the whole thing something stupid and mind-numbingly generic like Harlem River Yards because, as Neil De Mausse wrote, “that’s just how the mega-development name generator works now?

If NYCFC and a team of real estate developers get their way and move ahead on a $700 million proposal to construct a de rigueur, partially enclosed stadium in the South Bronx, then current residents may soon recall their old community by paraphrasing Sinatra:

“There used to be a neighborhood right here.”

sinatra.jpg
Wikimedia Commons

New York Yimby, which broke the news of the potential project last week, praises the “approximately 550” affordable apartments. But don’t be fooled: Of the roughly 100,000 people live in Port Morris, Mott Haven and Melrose, 43% live below the federal poverty line — which is far less than the practical poverty line in New York City — and 59% are already rent-burdened, which means they spend more than 30% of their income on rent.

It’s a bizarre twist on an old stadium-based urban renewal program.

In 1964, New York City bulldozed the Polo Grounds, built public housing for thousands of low-income people inside a riverside pit partitioned by a cliff and then ignored the site for 50+ years.

In 2022, the opposite may unfold: The city’s developer-welfare system might hand a vacant rail yard to a billionaire real estate team, thus enabling the developers to kick out thousands of poor people from a peninsula partitioned by a highway that had been ignored for 50+ years.

Without some serious — and extremely unlikely — intervention to lock in rents for existing residents or guarantee one-for-one truly affordable housing development, then the new stadium, and the boring-ass glass high rises that will latch onto it like remoras, will likely finish the South Bronx upheaval initiated by Piano District” developers.

Stadiums nestled inside densely populated urban areas can be awesome neighborhood anchors, but not when they’re dropped on top of historically underserved communities. The proposed NYCFC stadium project would inflate rents and displace the very people who have, for decades, built and sustained a life for themselves in the South Bronx without private-sector investment or government support.

This proposed NYCFC soccer stadium wouldn’t enhance Port Morris. It would replace it.

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