A Conversation with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.

John Jordan | October 2018

Ruben Diaz, Jr., Bronx Borough President

The Bronx is Setting Records for Business, Job Growth

For those old enough to remember, the images of the Bronx in the 1970s and 1980s that evoked abject poverty, neglect, and rampant crime are hard to erase. While it took decades to overcome, those days are long gone and new images are now coming to view of diverse and vibrant neighborhoods and significant investment from both the public and private sectors in the borough’s infrastructure and housing stock.

While one can expect Bronx political leaders to tout the borough’s strong points, a recent report by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli proved what many Bronxites already know, the economic revival in The Bronx is well underway.

“The Bronx has made great progress and has come a long way,” DiNapoli said when he released his “Economic Snapshot” report in July of the Bronx economy from 2007 to 2017. “It has set employment records for 10 consecutive years.”

The report also chronicled some of the challenge the Bronx continues to face—specifically too many residents remaining in poverty, high unemployment among the borough’s youth and a shortage of affordable housing.

“The Bronx has seen incredible transformative development over the past nine years. Comptroller DiNapoli’s report not only highlights our successes but outlines our continuing challenges, as well,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.

Real Estate In-Depth caught up recently with the Borough President to discuss the opportunities and challenges in the Bronx.

“There’s no secret that in the 1970s, ‘80s and early ‘90s we had a hiccup in the Bronx as it related to progress and economic development and today we are just not the same Bronx as we were back then,” Borough President Diaz said. “Today what we see is that with all of our imperfections, in the past nine years the Bronx has seen over $15 billion in private investment here, we have cut unemployment by more than half from 14% to 5% and 115,000 more Bronxites are working today since I took office.”

In 2017, the Bronx saw $2.7 billion in investment, a total of approximately 16.3 million in square footage added, including 7,379 units of residential housing—3,081 units of unsubsidized housing built by private developers and 4,299 units of subsidized housing.

The breakdown by category for 2017 included $2.3 billion of residential investment; $171 million in commercial investment and $238 million in institutional investment in the Bronx.

For the period of 2009-2017, the Bronx has seen a total of approximately $15.5 billion in total investment, involving nearly 85 million square feet of space, including the development of 36,437 housing units. The market share breakdown for that nine-year period was 15,280 unsubsidized housing units (42%) and 21,157 subsidized units (58%). Residential development far outpaced other sectors during that time at $9.9 billion, commercial and institutional investment each came in at $2.8 billion.

Borough President Diaz noted that during that period the Bronx has invested $350 million in its park system and 2017 the Bronx posted its lowest crime totals since 1951.

“So, we feel a huge surge and a renaissance and we are working on major infrastructure projects, such as the four Metro-North stations (Co-op City, Morris Park/Van Nest, Parkchester and Hunts Point) and the Bruckner-Sheridan interchange,” he said. Diaz credited Gov. Cuomo for his steadfast support and investment in the borough, including the $1.8-billion Bruckner-Sheridan interchange project and for the new Metro-North station initiative that Diaz said could be a game changer for sections of the Bronx.

Earlier this month, chief elected officials in the Bronx, including Diaz, sent a letter to Anthony R. Coscia, chairman of the Board of Amtrak, demanding that the rail company cease its actions that they charge are holding up progress on the proposed East Bronx Metro-North expansion.

“Universal support exists for this critical project among Bronx communities and elected leadership. Despite this reality, Amtrak stands in the way by refusing to negotiate a reasonable MOU with the MTA that would allow work to commence,” the letter stated. “It is long overdue for Amtrak to get on board.”

Diaz noted, “The East Bronx Metro-North expansion is universally popular, and has tremendous potential to connect our borough to economic centers to the north in Westchester and Connecticut while also creating a new option to midtown. Amtrak is being entirely unreasonable. Amtrak is using its ownership of the tracks to hold up the MTA for more money, but it is really commuters across the region who are being held hostage.”

The city has recently launched the Bronx Metro-North Working Group, which will engage local residents and businesses to optimize the planned new commuter rail service. The group is led by Borough President Diaz, New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, New York City Economic Development Corporation President James Patchett and City Planning Director Marisa Lago.

This fall, the group will start discusions with the Hunts Point, Parkchester/Van Nest, Morris Park and Co-op City communities to put plans into place, including possible zone changes and infrastructure and quality of life investments, to address the needs and priorities of each neighborhood and take advantage of the economic development, job growth and housing opportunities the new stations will bring.

Some of the other key data points from the State Comptroller’s report on the Bronx included:

The Bronx was the only borough in New York City that did not lose jobs during the Great Recession. Since 2007, it has gained an estimated 40,900 private sector jobs (an increase of 21%), reaching a record of 239,900 jobs in 2017. Health care, leisure and hospitality, retail trade and social assistance accounted for more than three-quarters of the gains.

Job growth was fastest in the Morris Heights area, where employment grew by 41%. Growth was also strong in the Hunts Point area, which was responsible for nearly one-quarter of the private sector job gains in the borough since 2007.The area includes the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center, one of the largest food distribution centers in the world.

The unemployment rate averaged 12% from 2009 through 2013, but it dropped to 6.2% by 2017, the lowest level since 1990.Recent data shows the unemployment rate fell to a new record low of 4.7% in May 2018.

Despite the progress, the unemployment rate was higher than the citywide rate of 4.5% in 2017 and the seventh highest of the state’s 62 counties. Youth unemployment was 21.5% in 2016 (the latest available data), nearly five percentage points higher than the citywide rate.

The Bronx’s population grew 26% between 1980 and 2017, reaching almost 1.5 million people, and it was the fastest-growing county in New York State since 2010. The borough’s population growth was driven by an increase in the number of foreign-born residents.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth