A Conversation with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
John Jordan | December 2019
Bronx Economy Continues to Attract Significant Investment
With the publication of Real Estate In-Depth’s first special section on the Bronx, we thought it appropriate that our readers learn first-hand from the borough’s chief executive—Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.—on the state of the borough.
There is a lot happening in this borough made famous by Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Maris and Jeter. For example, the Borough President, who graciously responded to questions supplied by this newspaper, reports that there has been nearly $19 billion in total investment in the Bronx in the past decade and more than 45,000 new residential units developed during that period.
I am excited to announce that Real Estate In-Depth will begin regular coverage of the Bronx beginning in January 2020 so that we can report to our loyal readership all the great things that are taking place here.
Real Estate In-Depth: In 2018, your office’s annual economic development report stated that there was nearly $3.5 billion in investment in the Bronx in 2018, involving $2.6 billion in residential development; $362 million in commercial and $489 million in institutional investment, among the highest annual investment totals in each category between 2019-2018. Is the Bronx seeing similar investment numbers this year?
Borough President Diaz: We have to wait until the end of the year for a real tally of investments, but we are continuing to see considerable interest in our borough. The borough has seen more than $18.9 billion in total development, as well as more than 96.7 million square feet of total development construction since 2009. Also, a total of 45,332 residential units have also been constructed in The Bronx since 2009, with more than half of those units—23,110—having been developed with government subsidies. We are building housing for new residents, as well as longtime residents who want to stay in their borough that they love so much.
Real Estate In-Depth: A year ago you issued a report entitled “The Preferential Rent Crisis in New York City where you stated that “many New Yorkers are teetering on the edge of eviction and displacement because of their lack of ability to absorb a sudden increase in their rent from preferential to legal registered rent. Did the rent reform laws passed by the state help alleviate this crisis and is access to affordable housing an issue in the Bronx?
Borough President Diaz: We’ll always have more work to do, but the laws passed last session in Albany have been a real benefit to tenants across the city. We are all grateful to our legislators in Albany. I am especially proud of the work of my good friend, Speaker Carl Heastie, on this issue. We are seeing slow improvement for tenants in a wide variety of areas, and I expect it will only get better as time goes on.
Real Estate In-Depth: You have been a vocal critic of the mayor’s jail plan. Can you outline your concerns and the plan’s impact on the Bronx?
Borough President Diaz: To be crystal clear, Rikers Island must be closed. It is a stain on the soul of our city. However, the closure should have been handled in the right way, with elected officials and stakeholders in all four boroughs having substantial input to ensure that future generations do not suffer from the consequences of poor planning and political expediency. Throughout this process I advocated to build the new Bronx jail adjacent to the existing Bronx Hall of Justice. With our citywide inmate population at a historical low, the Mayor’s Office has already admitted that the size of these jails can be reduced, which further validates that the Bronx jail could be moved to its proper location next to the court system, like the other boroughs.
Real Estate In-Depth: As an announced candidate for mayor, can you outline some of the key components of your platform?
Borough President Diaz: I am having those conversations. I believe we have set a great example in one of the most challenging areas of the city. As I go around the city to speak about my future, I speak about a city that can provide opportunity for its residents, just like it has to myself and so many others. Stay tuned.
Real Estate In-Depth: What are the areas of the Bronx that are growing and what are the sections that are struggling and need investment?
Borough President Diaz: Health has been a major issue for our borough since long before I was borough president. For too long, our borough has lagged behind, and this disparity was never more obvious than when it came to health. Things are changing. From building greener, to funding improved parks, to ensuring access to healthier foods in every community, to getting people exercising and more, we have seen a full-court press towards better health outcomes over the past several years. When the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation named The Bronx the least healthy county in New York State in 2009, we acted. Today, we are working in earnest at all levels to improve our borough’s health indicators, through the #NOT62 campaign, and other initiatives. We have more to do, but we are making real progress.
Real Estate In-Depth: In late September you appeared with Westchester County Executive George Latimer in regards to the Penn-Access project. Are you in support of this project and what will it do for the borough’s economy if completed?
Borough President Diaz: Of course. This project is a game changer. A 20-minute ride from midtown to Co-op City opens up tremendous possibilities for The Bronx. There is across-the-board support for East Bronx Metro North access at every level, from elected leadership to community organizations to future commuters and everyone in between. I greatly appreciate Mr. Latimer’s partnership on this. This project will bring commuter rail service to four new Bronx stations: Co-op City, Morris Park/Van Nest, Parkchester and Hunts Point.
We’ve created a Penn Station Access Bronx & Westchester Community Council to guide this project. What this community council will ensure is that we are hearing from everyone. We want to hear the concerns and the questions of the businesses, the major organizations, and especially the residents and commuters who will be served by this expansion.