Bronx jail site should be used for affordable housing, Bronx BP says

A proposed jail site was protested by Mott Haven residents and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018.
A proposed jail site was protested by Mott Haven residents and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Drew Angerer

A proposed jail site in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx should be used for low-income housing instead, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said at a news conference Tuesday.

Rallying alongside dozens of advocates wearing T-shirts that read, “Stop The Jail. Sign The Petition. GoTo: NoJailDeblasio.com,” Díaz detailed a development plan created by the residents of neighboring Diego Beekman Mutual Housing.

The proposal includes the construction of new low-income housing units, a grocery store, community spaces and other retail establishments inside what is currently an NYPD tow impound lot located at 320 Concord Ave.

Members of the Diego Beekman housing board said they have been pitching the plan to city agencies since 2013, but have not been met with positive responses.

A spokeswoman for the Department of City Planning confirmed that they met with Diego Beekman residents, but said that zoning laws prohibit any housing developments on the site, as well as any further rezoning.

The site was chosen for a new jail in February under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to shutter scandal-plagued Rikers Island by 2027. While existing jails in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens will undergo remodeling to accommodate Rikers inmates, a new jail will be constructed from scratch in Mott Haven, de Blasio said.

Díaz and other elected officials of the Bronx were critical of de Blasio’s announcement, particularly taking issue with a lack of public outreach that left residents feeling excluded, and as Díaz said in February, “disrespected.”

“We understand and support that Rikers Island should be closed,” Díaz told the crowd on Tuesday. “But it should not happen without the leadership for the borough being consulted. It should not happen without the community being consulted.”

“It will not happen here,” he said, adding that he would be open to a discussion about other sites in the borough for the proposed jail.

Arline Parks, CEO of Diego Beekman Mutual Housing, argued the Bronx already has too many homeless shelters, methadone clinics, power plants and waste transfer systems, adding that any investment in the borough should be to create opportunities for its residents, rather than to establish a jail.

Advocates are trying to protect the site because of its historical significance as the former Lincoln Hospital, as well as its proximity to the Bruckner Expressway, an entry point into the borough.

“The site is important because it is a gateway to the entire region,” Parks said after the rally. “People coming [into the Bronx] shouldn’t see a jail.”

While announcing the borough-based jails plan, de Blasio had promised a community process, where he said elected officials and community board members would have the opportunity to voice their concerns.

“We’re committed to closing Rikers Island and replacing it with community-based facilities. We believe we’ve found the best site in the Bronx that meets our criteria, but are open to considering alternatives supported by the community,” mayoral spokeswoman Natalie Grybauskas said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

So far, however, Díaz and other Bronx residents say they have not heard from the mayor.

“As you move forward, we’ll see what you have, we’ll listen, we’ll keep an open mind, but this is a non-starter,” Díaz said of the current proposed site.