Ritchie Torres officially won the congressional seat for the South Bronx on August 4th.
But his win is now being overshadowed by questions surrounding his ethics and progressiveness. These questions aren’t surprising given the donors his campaign attracted. Big money, developers, and the Real Estate Board of New York funded Torres. While the hundreds of mailers they made possible branded Ritchie as "true" progressive in a busy field.
But many Bronx progressives feared that he would win, with the help of these donors then use his congressional seat to undermine the most vulnerable residents of the district.
These fears materialized on August 3rd.
Via a tweet he shared implored the city council to support Industry City's expansion proposal, questioning how anyone could say no to jobs and 100 Mil in tax revenue.
But a closer look at their plan makes it clear that 20k jobs would arrive over 15 years. More importantly, the community surrounding Industry City has worked to stop this expansion because they feared displacement and further gentrification would destabilize their neighborhood. The vision was not supported by groups such as Uprose Brooklyn, Protect Sunset Park and anyone responding to Torres' oped on Twitter.
Local councilmember Carlos Menchaca attempted to negotiate investments with the owners, including the removal of two hotels from the plan. The developers felt there was too much being asked of them.
Even with the adjustments their vision turns valuable waterfront land into yet another playground for the wealthy in NYC. Yes, locals would be allowed to visit but how often do we see them at similar developments outside of their uniforms? and the jobs being created would probably require uniforms for the locals. Boxing them into the service industry.
This should feel familiar. The similarities between Industry City and Hudson Yards are striking and average New Yorkers should hate them both!
Refresher: Bloombergs NYC supported Hudson hard body. So hard they redrew a district to include Harlem’s NYCHA properties. This made the project eligible for EB5 Visas.
“New York State authorities enabled Related, the project’s developer, to raise more than $1.2 billion in EB-5 financing at the lower-tier rate reserved for urban areas with severe unemployment. It’s supposed to help struggling places in America. But New York, Texas, California and most other states tilt the system in luxury’s favor. Sometimes this means stringing together dozens of census tracts in long spaghetti-noodle maps to qualify luxury projects as falling within poor urban districts. ”
This money meant to rescue inner city communities with no other revenue streams built Hudson Yards along with amazing incentives and breaks. These decisions were made 15 years ago.
Today Torres asks that post COVID the city support Industry City. Meanwhile Hudson Yards' anchor tenant Neiman Marcus has filed for bankruptcy. 75% of their tenants were unable to pay their rents in April, or maintain employees. NYC is now expected to lose 9 Billion including millions that Hudson Yards was supposed to produce. Additionally the city is now on the hook to start paying principal on the the Yard’s debt come 2021. WHY?
"In 2005, the City chose to take on all the risk if, and when, anything went wrong with Hudson Yards. It did so first by choosing a non-traditional route to fund its investment in Hudson Yards. The City committed $3.5 billion to extend the nº 7 subway line and build the city’s most expensive office park as part of the Hudson Yards project. Rather than use the City’s capital budget, the normal practice to pay for infrastructure projects, the Bloomberg Administration and the City Council chose to finance Hudson Yards’ expenses through a complex version of Tax Increment Financing (TIF), a tool used to finance economic development projects.
TIF debt sold for an economic development project is paid back by the revenues resulting from the development itself. In practice, if anything goes wrong, city taxpayers often end up footing the bill. In Hudson Yards, City officials chose to pledge the City’s general fund as a backstop if property taxes from the ensuing private development in Hudson Yards was ever insufficient to pay back the debt issued to build the infrastructure." Center for New York Affairs
So why is Torres so preoccupied with Industry City? It is in Brooklyn, a borough that is years ahead of the South Bronx when it comes to numerous measurements. Mott Haven continues to be 62 out of 62 counties in New York. Meanwhile, Kings County, where Industry City is located is number 15. Their councilmember isn't supporting the plan, and tradition states that the council should defer to the local representative. Ritchie isn't honoring tradition, and pushed back going as far as baiting the mayor and citycouncil speaker while overlooking the work Menchaca and community organizations did before reaching the conclusion that Industry City's vision wasn't right for them.
How is Industry City linked to NY15? well their owner Belvedere Capital and Jamestown also owns 260 East 161st Street. This was their first purchase in the Bronx for a cost of $115M and required a $64M loan. They also own Chelsea Market. This is another space that has become obsolete post COVID. Like a lot of Industry City and Hudson Yards.
Hudson Yards, and Industry City are also aesthetically similar. They are a polished nod to a NYC long gone. They are also become a gateway to the waterfronts they take over. These lots are remnants of an industrial era where our rivers were the root of economic growth. For years these industrial spaces were overlooked. Until rezoning allowed for classism to redefine them. Industry City and my beloved square at the end of Lincoln Avenue are being transformed into havens for the wealthy.
This nexus of design, access and waterfront are replicated near my home in Mott Haven a community Ritchie now "represents".
Who gets the waterfront? Mott Haven has been at the forefront of gentrification debates and clashes since the New York Times began advertising it. Our waterfronts have been historically polluted, and inaccessible. Today companies like Waste Management bring in hundreds of garbage trucks through Mott Haven daily. But the community has slowly reclaimed waterfront spaces. Most notably the end of Lincoln Avenue is now a destination for residents seeking a natural escape.
This is the same site where Brookfield is building their luxury minicity Bankside. The seven buildings will include affordable housing and enough winding paths to keep any Karen busy. The renderings are pretty. But for those that call Mott Haven home they represent an uncertain future. One being built on top of record rental prices for commercial and residential spaces. One that ignores how many luxury spaces already sit empty due to rents that have been ballooned due to unrestrained speculation.
Yet Torres is calling for the expansion of a space that in no way addresses the inequality that existed before COVID. The ones that he claimed to understand as a gay, brown boy, raised by a single mom, in public housing. He also doesn't seem to understand the inequalities that COVID has amplified. So, it falls on us the Bronx his district to educate him on these.
I encourage you all to reach out to Torres and share with him some of the points raised in this blog or you can mention:
- NYC's recovery from COVID requires a plan that is inclusive of all New Yorkers. Industry City's expansion is not aligned with our view of a just city. We need to focus on lowering commercial leases, supporting small businesses as they pivot and support job creation that is inclusive.
Quote Menchaca: “It is clear to me that the displacement and gentrification our city is combating today is a result of giving private developers free reign.”
- Tell him that local residents have voiced their opposition to this plan. He needs to respect that.
- Let him know that you would appreciate it if he would focus on the Bronx.
How to reach Ritchie:
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/RitchieTorres
- Email: Rtorres@council.nyc.gov
- Phone: 718-842-8100
- In Person: 573 East Fordham Road (Entrance on Hoffman Street) Bronx, NY 10458