First Latina woman to head major Bronx development NFP

A Bronx native was named the first Latina woman to head the South Bronx Economic Development Corporation, otherwise known as SoBro.

Lourdes Zapata, 54, who originally hailed from Prospect and East 156th Street has returned to her home borough.

She took SoBro’s leadership reins in August of 2019, She has a long history working with other nonprofit organizations.

Zapata was a director of community development in 1997 and worked on several major affordable housing developments in the south Bronx and Harlem.

After moving to the suburbs, Zapata further honed her skills in Newburgh as a community development director and then returned to SoBro for a second time.

Before accepting her third SoBro stint Zapata worked as a chief diversity officer, which she said has helped with her role as CEO at SoBro.

“When the former CEO stepped down, they asked me once again if I would be interested in returning to SoBro,” Zapata said.

Since her return to SoBro, Zapata said she has been getting back to living and working in the Bronx.

“It’s been a lot of reintroducing myself to the community and putting my ear to the ground,” Zapata said. “I want to get my Bronx game on.”

Zapata has lots of plans for the future and has been working strategically to put the Bronx where it should be developmentally and economically.

She explained that during the 50 years that SoBro has been in business, the corporation’s objectives are to look at things like community development, business programming, workforce issues amongst others.

“We’re not just trying to provide a service,” Zapata said. “We’re interested in providing the best quality service.”

Zapata said she plans to strengthen partnerships, reestablish partnerships and support all the great things going on.

She touched on examining redevelopment and housing in the area as well. She is astonished at the growth in the number of emerging artists and musicians in the area.

With regards to her position at an economic development firm, as well as coming from an low-income family, she has taken a neutral stance between community growth and gentrification.

She made reference to the gentrification that happened in Brooklyn over the past ten years, where people who work in Manhattan, pushed out lower income families.

“Growth is a good thing, but it needs to be responsible,” Zapata said. “We have an opportunity to avoid those problems if we do it the right way, we need to listen to the dialogue and the social discourse.”

She emphasized there’s a need for luxury housing and low-income housing.

“There’s room for it all,” Zapata added.

Though she deals with the complexities of the community, Zapata mentioned a bumper sticker she has in her office that says, ‘You’re always from the Bronx.”

“There’s a certain pride in the borough, and that’s part of the reason I enjoy working at SoBro,” Zapata said. “And I’m honored to play an integral role in all the great things we’re going through and I’m excited to see those advancements.”

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