Q&A: Gregory Lobo Jost on keeping the Bronx affordable
Gregory Lobo Jost, 37, is deputy director of the University Neighborhood Housing Program in the Bronx. He lives in Norwood with his wife, Sandra, and their children, Amelia, 8 and Tiago, 4.
What would you most like to see changed in NYC?
The city should reinstate subsidizing housing for families coming out of shelters. Now that the subsidy and Advantage (a state and federally funded program to provide bridge housing subsidies) are gone, family homelessness is way up and people in shelters are stuck there. Landlords are converting permanent housing into homeless shelters because they get more than $3,000 a month for a shelter unit! Giving families Section 8 instead of paying landlords more for emergency shelter would be a lot cheaper for the city and allow families to have permanent housing.
How could this be fixed?
Change the funding streams so we can keep people from homelessness while saving money for the city! I'd take money away from Homeless Services and instead put it to Housing, Preservation and Development to keep people in permanent affordable housing: That could help.
Why is the Bronx our nation's poorest urban county?
We're the last part of New York City to offer affordable housing, but we also have the highest concentration of people who pay more than half their income on rent. Wages stagnated while housing costs continue to rise. Combine those forces with red lining and disinvestment and you get high rates of poverty. The people who could afford to leave, left. The people here are working: they're just not making very much money.
Raising the minimum wage, and wages in general, would have a bigger effect in the Bronx than anywhere else. We need to create new economic opportunities and industries that create jobs.
Manhattanites complain that all their street level retail space has been cannibalized by bank branches, people in the Bronx are begging for more banks! How come?
We would especially welcome smaller community banks and credit unions. We only have 145 bank branches for the entire borough, which is one for every 8,900 residents ... Check cashiers are lobbying really hard in Albany to pass the Short Term Services Loan Act that would permit them to give "pay day loans." These loans have annual percentage rates as high as 600% and have the potential to get people into a great deal of financial trouble. We have a usury cap in New York State of 25% -- we should keep that.
You've expressed displeasure how schools are evaluated.
There's so much emphasis put on standardized testing educators are pressured to emphasize test prep at the expense of all the other really important things. There has to be a better way to evaluate schools that uses assessment tools other than the standardized tests. Schools are not teaching critical thinking because they're so concerned with test prep!
How can the Bronx improve without becoming too costly for its long time residents?
We don't want gentrification, but livable neighborhoods with good services. The question is: Who makes money off rising real estate values? In the last decade it's increasingly been speculators and not people providing affordable housing. For the most part, the speculators failed in these bets. These speculators just stop making repairs and let conditions deteriorate.
The Bronx seems to have worse housing stock and more heat complaints than any place else.
Form a tenant association if you have persistent problems. Individual calls are not as effective as when you organize and bring pressure collectively: When you have a whole lot of people calling 311, that affects statistics. Then people pay attention.