Lehman Students Fear Their Rent Will Triple if HUD Bill Passes

By Juan Vasquez

Ben Carson during his 2016 Presidential Election. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A new bill from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calls for a threefold increase in rent for Americans least able to pay. Ben Carson, the Secretary of HUD, presented the bill on April 25. If passed, it will affect fifteen percent of people living in federally subsidized housing, according to the Washington Post. The paper also stated that Carson suggested changes in housing law that would make it easier for housing authorities to create work requirements that tenants be employed to receive such benefits. The proposal has some Lehman students worried it will hurt them or their peers and families if it becomes law. 

“I believe that raising the rent will limit the chance of students trying to graduate,” says Steven Gonzalez, a psychology major at Lehman. “I know quite a few people that have to take breaks just so they can focus on their jobs in order to pay for the classes they need, not mentioning the bills that they pay for housing.” 

English major Rhue Alice, a senior, told the Meridian “a lot of [students] would lose housing, and have to scramble for alternative living arrangements. I know a few people who in the past have had to drop out of school in order to work so they could live somewhere.” 

“A lot of [students] would lose housing, and have to scramble for alternative living arrangements.” 

- Rhue Alice, Lehman English major

According to the 2017 NYCHA Fact Sheet, over 204,000 Bronx residents rely on subsidized housing. And while rent under subsidized housing is capped at 30 percent of the household’s income, only 47 percent of those households actually earn income. This means that if any sort of rent increase were to come into place, more than half of those living in subsidized housing would not be able to afford to live in their homes. This bill has not yet reached the Senate.  

“If there is a need to gain more money, taking it from the those considered working class is a terrible idea,” computer science major Adrian Moore remarked. He also stated that “such a change would without a doubt affect the tenants who would have to work under a new system like that.”

Locals Fear New Kingsbridge Development Spells Gentrification

By Perla Tolentino

The ongoing construction site viewed from the 4 Train Kingsbridge Road subway station. All photos by Perla Tolentino.

Kingsbridge residents see a construction site at Jerome Ave and West 196th Street as one more sign of encroaching gentrification. According to a January article in The Real Deal New York Real Estate News, the project’s mastermind, Alan Bell, has reserved 40 of the apartments in the Kingsbridge project for the homeless. But locals fear they will end up priced out of both the building and the neighborhood, since the ongoing construction is close to the Kingsbridge armory renovation which is expected to send rents soaring. 

“When in one of the poorest counties of NY you begin to see sudden construction of buildings of such high price, you know the gentrification phenomena has already begun,” said Leonor Santana, a Lehman senior and business administration major. She believes that gentrification is occurring and that local rents will end up being so high that only wealthy people will be able to afford to live here. 

Official sources tell a different story. A spokesperson at C+C Apartment Management LLC, (one of the contacts listed outside the construction site) told the Meridian that all applications will be processed by Housing Connect under a lottery. The spokesperson confirmed rent prices for only low-income families which represent the 60 percent of the area median income and moderate-income families which represent 90 percent of area median income in New York. For the low-income, C+C Management confirmed, $860 for a studio apartment, $923 for one bedroom, $1,114 for two bedroom and $1,281 for a three bedroom apartment. For the moderate-income, confirmed rent prices are, $1,305 for a studio apartment, $1,399 for one bedroom, $1,686 for two bedroom and $1,940 for a three bedroom. C+C Management referred clients to the NYC Housing Preservation & Development website to understand their income types and qualifications before applying. They also said a 17-car parking garage will also be built.  

According to a Jan 2016 article by New York YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard), 30 percent of the apartments will be for homeless tenants, 55 percent for low-income families and the remaining fifteen percent for middle-income families with annual incomes ranging from $51,780 to $71,760. However, this range is significantly higher than the median income of Bronx residents as a whole, which was $35,302 in 2016 according to US Census Bureau data. 

An inside look at the construction of the building that will hold 137 apartments and a parking lot located under the Kingsbridge Road train station.

Research by The Furman Center, in collaboration with the NYU School of Law and Wagner School of Public Service, shows that Kingsbridge has seen a gradual increase in rent over the past 12 years, from $1,093 in 2006, to $1450 in 2017 of median gross rent, compared to Bronx rents overall between $1,600 and $2,800 citywide. The research also revealed that in 2016, 37.5 percent of tenants had to spend more than 50 percent of household income only on rent, and that only 6.4 percent of Kingsbridge Heights/Bedford residents own their own homes. This data indicates how the vast majority of locals in this community depend on affordable housing and suggests that apartments in the new Kingsbridge project may not be within reach of many.

“Only rich people will be able to pay that kind of rent if they construct the ice rink.” 

- Bryan Diaz, Lehman computer science major and Bronx resident

Mabel Rojas, a processor for the Department of Buildings, told the Meridian that while the project is “definitely residential,” with 137 apartment units, she is “not sure if [it is] low income because the owners are private, but they might sell to the city after.” [Full disclosure: Rojas is the sister of the managng editor.] Rojas also said that the 13-story building is mixed use so the ground floor will be used for business. “They paid over 40k to the city in fees, but the overall cost is not yet determined” Rojas added. 

Lehman students’ biggest concern is how long apartments in this building will stay “affordable,” and many told the Meridian that they doubt they will be. They also believe the project is another sign of the gentrification occurring throughout many Bronx communities. 

Bryan Diaz, a Lehman Computer Science major student who has lived in the Bronx for the past eight years, is convinced that the project is lucre-focused only. Like many locals, he believes developers are trying to cash in on the renovation of the Kingsbridge Armory, which is expected to bring more business to the area. “Knowing what is about to happen to the armory, they know constructing a building for rich people is more suitable,” he said. “They know only rich people will be able to pay that kind of rent if they construct the ice rink.” 

According to a March report by Norwood News, the Kingsbridge Armory will begin its long-delayed transformation between November 2018 and January 2019. Bell told Norwood News that the Kingsbridge apartment building has little to do with the armory project. The Real Deal New York Real Estate News also states that in 2010 Bell left the Hudson Company Inc., a market-rate development company he founded in 1986, to found a new affordable housing company named B&B Urban.  However, Bell has not yet mentioned having an action plan to block the increase of rent in the area, if the armory project actually happens. 

While it is impossible to foresee its impact for sure, many Lehman students remain pessimistic. Diaz believes that developers will transform the area by building hotels catering to future tourists. “Kingsbridge will become a totally different neighborhood,” he predicted. 

Lehman Food Bank Expands from Energy Bars to Seven Tons of Food

By Leonel Henriquez

The Lehman College Food Bank opened in 2017. Photo courtesy of Lehman College.

“To be clear, this is Suzette’s baby,” says Assistant Director of Campus Life (CL) David Charcape of CL’s Associate Director Suzette Ramsundar. The program Ramsundar fostered is the Lehman Food Bank. “She has done a lot to make this program a success,” Charcape said.

As Ramsundar tells it, the idea came to her at work. Hungry students would stop by her office and ask if she had any snacks, especially in the afternoons and evenings. She started keeping energy bars and other snacks in the cubby above her desk to give to anyone who asked. From these seeds, the food bank was born.  

“The most difficult part was at the beginning,” Ramsundar says of the struggle to get the program up and running. “Getting funding and then actually purchasing food to give out. We would get goods from the N.Y. Food Bank, BJ’s, Cosco and even the Morton William’s supermarket on Kingsbridge when we ran out of stuff.” 

From left to right: Shovaine Singh, Student Coordinator for Lehman Food Bank; David Charcape, Assistant Director of Campus Life; Suzette Ramsundar, Associate Director of Campus Life and Coordinator of the H.H.L. Leadership Development Center; Lilian Yang, Graduate Assistant of the H.H.L. Leadership Development Center. Photo by Leonel Henriquez.

The food bank celebrated its one-year anniversary on March 29. It runs on a volunteer staff of three and is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in room 120 of the Student Life Building. It is only for students and currently serves about 40 appointments per week. 

“We serve students by appointment after they make one online at lehmanfoodbank.setmore.com” says senior  Shovaine V. Singh, the Food Bank Student Coordinator. “They schedule their own private fifteen-minute appointment. We want students to feel secure in a no-judgment zone.” 

Lehman alum Dr. Christopher Emdin says, “It is difficult for students to think about doing homework when they are hungry and concerned that they have little or no food at home.” This concern is double in the case of adult students at Lehman. 

“When you consider that adult students around age 27 have their own family and have to consider feeding their children as well, time at school means time not working,” says Singh. “So it creates a difficulty for students to study when they have this concern on their minds that they have hungry children at home.” 

The recent purchase of a refrigerator allows the pantry to expand beyond canned goods and dry items. It now keeps some perishables, as well as fruits and vegetables, most of which come from a partnership with Corbin Hills to supply fresh locally-grown produce. Lehman alum Carlos Ortiz, now with Goya, reached out and secured a pledge of a 14,000 pound food donation.

The food bank also provides recipes for the food items donated, as well as caloric information, nutritional value and portion size. It is also looking to hold culinary workshops. “We want every student who needs help to feel that they are welcome. Any student can get food, no questions asked,” says Ramsundar. “More importantly any one can donate as well and help a fellow student.” 

Bronx Residents and Lehman Students Criticize Kanye’s Pro-Trump Tweets

By Jorel Lonesome

Kanye West performing at the Museum of Modern Art. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 

“People viewed Kanye West as an outspoken visionary who rapped about racial issues in his songs, but he has done a complete three-sixty and turned into an ignorant sell out,” says Qianna Stratton, 30, Bronx resident and paraprofessional at P.S. 134 in Hollis, NY. Stratton along with many other Bronx residents objects to the 40-year-old rapper and producer’s recent provocative statements that caused a popular uproar. 

On April 25, West tweeted a photo of himself wearing a Donald-Trump-signed “Make America Great Again” hat alongside hip-hop music industry executive Lyor Cohen and the CEO of Universal, Lucian Grainge. West expressed his love for Trump in a series of tweets stating that he considers Trump “his brother.” West then tweeted about “free thought,” stating that he does not always necessarily agree with everything people do. “That’s what makes us individuals,” he said, “and we have the right to independent thought.”

Four days prior, West had tweeted his admiration of Candace Owens, a black activist and Trump supporter who believes black people have been brainwashed by the media to vote for democrats. “I love the way Candace Owens thinks,” West tweeted. The rapper also debated Hot 97’s Ebro Darden for 30 minutes, and continued expressing his support for Owens. A week later, in a TMZ interview on May 1, West told his interviewer, “when you hear about slavery for 400 years...for 400 years? That sounds like a choice.” 

Since Kanye West’s seventh studio album in 2016, “The Life of Pablo,” little news had been centered around the celebrity until the Pro-Trump issue started. West’s upcoming album, titled “Love Everyone,” is currently set to be released on June 1, 2018, and many Bronx residents believe West will say anything controversial for media attention to stay relevant. 

Kanye West at Lollapalooza Chile in 2011. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

“He acts and what he does is an act. He feeds off controversy and likes the publicity,” said Ryan Esquivel, Bronx resident and program coordinator for The Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at NYU.

Some Lehman students think West’s mental breakdown during his career has affected his opinions. “Kanye has a lot of problems," said Sadou, inventory specialist at Best Buy, and student at Lehman. “I think it all began from the loss of his mother, which he can’t get over, and I think his opioid addiction and the people he hangs with has affected his thought process,” he continued. “Kanye is causing uproars on Twitter to promote his next album, but he doesn’t need to tweet by the minute about his love for Trump to get attention.”

West’s pro-Trump support has received backlash from African-American communities because the president has made racially charged comments and is associated with anti-black policies which have been documented for years.

“People viewed Kanye West as an outspoken visionary who rapped about racial issues in his songs, but he has done a complete three-sixty and turned into an ignorant sell out.”

- Qianna Stratton, 30, Bronx resident and paraprofessional at P.S. 134 in Hollis, NY

In a New York Times article “Donald Trump’s Racism: The Definitive List,” from Jan. 15, 2018, David Leonhardt and Ian Prasad Philbrick compiled racist remarks Trump made publicly. They state that “Trump treated black employees at his casinos differently from whites, according to multiple sources. A former hotel executive said Trump criticized a black accountant, saying “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. … I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks.”

The article also states that according to the federal government, Trump’s real-estate company tried to avoid renting apartments to African-Americans in the 1970s and gave preferential treatment to whites. 

“Supporting Trump implies you agree with the things he’s done,” said Anna Spencer, 28, security guard at Allied Barton. “Kanye’s appreciation for Trump shows that he doesn’t care for the racist things Trump has said about African Americans during his career as a businessman and politician.”

Anaïs Marcelo, Bronx resident and store associate at Modell’s Sporting Goods in Pelham, NY, dislikes West. “With so many people saying his writing and producing is excellent, this is probably true. I don’t care for his style of music, and his public persona rubs me the wrong way,” she said.

“I think Kanye is an interesting artist,” said Lloyd Richards, Jr., music counselor and student at Lehman. “I don’t believe in what he said in terms of slavery being a choice on TMZ. I think he wants attention leading up to his album. He makes good music, but I just don’t agree with the things he says. Everyone has the right to his opinion, but Kanye does not state the facts about history.”