"I have a mortgage to pay and a kid in college," says Pavel Lopez, the founder of Flatcode Communications in the Bronx.
Lopez’s business specializes in outfitting all types of taxis---from yellow cabs to Ubers---with electronic devices like GPSs, meters and cameras. Lopez has been building up his business in a Jerome Avenue garage for over a decade, but now feels it’s in limbo due to the street’s recent rezoning.
In late March, the City Council approved a plan to rezone a two-mile commercial stretch of Jerome Avenue north of Yankee Stadium and several of its offshoot streets. It could easily displace hundreds of immigrant-owned small businesses that have been in operation for decades; most are renters in commercial spaces.
Bustling Mexican grocery stores, “farmacias,” fruit stands, Yemeni bodegas, barber shops, botanicas, fabric shops, halal butchers, eateries owned by immigrants from the Dominican Republic to Ghana, and a slew of auto body shops operate along the 92-block commercial district.
Under the rezoning, the one- or two-story buildings housing these businesses could eventually be razed and replaced by nine- to 17-story residential buildings with commercial ground levels or by buildings large enough to accommodate big box stores like Target.
The rezoning---favored by City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, a Democrat whose district office is on Jerome Avenue, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.---could provide 4,000 new homes where these businesses currently stand. A quarter are slated to be “permanently affordable,” as city officials put it. Affordability is derived from formulas based on Housing and Urban Development’s Area Median Income of $93,900 for the New York City region. The median income in the Jerome Avenue area is $26,226. Other initiatives include green spaces and new schools.
However, the attention to Jerome Avenue small businesses---already under siege because New York City has no commercial lease regulations---seems to have been an afterthought and the consequences could be life-altering, according to most business owners, especially in the auto sector, activists and those involved with economic development, such as Elena Conte, director of policy at Pratt Center for Community Development. A Pratt Center report from late 2017 estimates the rezoning will cause 75 percent of the current auto workforce to eventually be displaced.