The neighborhoods of Mott Haven and Port Morris need more affordable housing, cleaner streets, better jobs and recreational spaces — and ways for young people to get involved to make that all a reality.
That was what residents argued on Saturday at a community meeting held outside Public School 49 about the future of the South Bronx.
“We’re in a community that needs so much because of some of the things that have happened over decades,” said Mychal Johnson, co-founder of the advocacy group South Bronx Unite, which hosted the weekend meeting on E. 140th St.
South Bronx Unite was founded almost a decade ago “to improve and protect the social, environmental, and economic future of Mott Haven and Port Morris,” according to its website.
In the weeks leading up to the New York City mayoral primaries in June, members went door to door asking community members what issues they wanted the organization to prioritize.
Affordable housing, jobs and green space were at the top of the list, along with stopping evictions and access to free healthcare, according to the survey of 172 respondents.
On Saturday, residents brought up those topics and spoke about The Arches, the South Bronx’s first luxury high-rise complex that went up last year in Mott Haven. Many said they had not yet received jobs or apartments in the development.
“It is only for higher paying jobs that are getting these apartments,” said Cesar Yoc, who lives in public housing and is a member of Community Board 1. “A lot of these developments don’t listen to us.”
About half of the residents living in Community 1 and 2 — which encompass Mott Haven, Melrose, Port Morris, Hunts Point and Longwood — earn under $25,000 a year, according to 2019 census data. About 20 percent of the population makes under $10,000 a year.
Others echoed Yoc’s concerns about not being heard and treated the same way as wealthier neighborhoods.
“As conscious individuals, of course we want change to happen from the top down,” Johnson said. “But we can’t rely on that always, so we have to make sure we hold them accountable.”
In the meantime, Johnson urged residents to clean up the garbage on the streets themselves. Another South Bronx Unite co-founder, Melissa Barber, pushed for the young people in the community to help sound the alarm on neighborhood concerns.
“We need the strength of the youth, we need the voices of the youth to be out front stage,” she said. “A part of the movements and the revolutions that we want to see take place within our communities — it’s going to happen through them.“
Despite the mounting issues, Libertad Guerra, another founding member of South Bronx Unite, was heartened to see such determination on Saturday.
“There’s an expansion of consciousness and more deep care of a lot of the residents in this neighborhood that don’t see this as a pass-through neighborhood,” she said. “[They] see this as a place that they want to live and want their kids to grow up, so they’re invested in the future of the neighborhood.”