Op-Ed | Morrisania’s El Bonrinquen Residence should be used as model for city affordable housing projects

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The El Borinquen Residence in Morrisania is an affordable housing building that incorporates culture into its colorful design, vibrant murals and overall liveliness.
Photo courtesy Helen Stevenson

Affordable housing is about more than just creating physical infrastructure — it forms the bedrock of a community. It allows seniors to age in place in the neighborhoods they helped create. It allows young professionals like firefighters, teachers, and plumbers to live in the communities in which they work. And this is to say nothing of the myriad economic and health benefits that follow once a building opens its doors.

The best affordable housing projects realize their potential by tapping into the energy and culture of the existing community. In Morrisania, that means connecting with Puerto Rican culture, which blends old and new, mixing indigenous, Spanish, and African traditions together into one melting pot.

One example of such an accomplishment is The El Borinquen Residence, an affordable building that incorporates that culture into its colorful design, vibrant murals and overall liveliness. That is why the New York Association – Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH) is proud to award this unique building — which demonstrates the power of affordable housing to the Bronx and the City overall — with our 2023 Downstate Project of the Year award.

El Borinquen includes 148 apartments — with 90 reserved for individuals who have experienced homelessness and young people aging out of foster care. The building has supportive services such as case management, mental health referrals, job readiness training, and financial literacy workshops.

Beautifully designed by Alexander Gorlin Architects and developed by Comunilife, its colorful streetside façade was designed to reflect the Puerto Rican culture of the surrounding neighborhood. The building is designed to remind the community of the importance of family, culture, and diversity.

The team successfully created a property with vital resources for mental, physical, and financial support for all residents — while navigating input from the Bronx community and collaboration with local partners.

El Borinquen Residence’s opening came at a crucial time of housing need in the Bronx. The borough had the second-highest eviction rate across New York counties, with 9.2% of all renter-occupied households filing for eviction in 2022. Thirty-four percent of Bronx residents are severely rent-burdened as they spend more than 50% of household income on rent.

The development exemplifies the need for community investment in affordable housing and success in overcoming New York’s exclusionary zoning practices and in navigating the financial procurement process where funding resources continue to be too scarce.

A model community development, El Borinquen can be used as an example to policymakers as they evaluate City Hall’s City of Yes for Housing Opportunity proposal, which aims to catalyze similar investment in New York City by eliminating unnecessary parking requirements, increasing transit-oriented development, and boosting new housing production. Zoning discussions and land use applications often generate significant political conflict and attention, and the City of Yes will likely be no different. But as we consider these proposals and others like them, designed to boost housing production, we should remember that creating safe, affordable housing for residents by many necessary means is the goal.

El Borinquen Residence, NYSAFAH’s Project of the Year awardee for 2023, is the type of project we expect to celebrate and replicate as the city looks to implement the City of Yes for Housing Opportunity. We hope policymakers across the city heed its lessons and activate new land use policies to spur investment in neighborhoods like Morrisania and connect to the vibrant local culture that makes New York New York.

Jolie Milstein is CEO and president of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing.

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