Residents express concern about quality of life on Villa Avenue in Bedford Park

The scaffolding where Shannon Gilstand has seen people drinking.
Photos courtesy of Shannon Gilstad

For many years, Villa Avenue in Bedford Park was a quiet Italian community. But years later, people have expressed concerns about how the neighborhood has changed.

Anthony Rivieccio, 59, a 35-year resident of Bedford Park, told the Bronx Times that the neighborhood was always considered “suburbia.”

“It had been that way until the last 20 years,” he said.

Now full of drugs, garbage and homeless people, he said that it seems the community has done a 180.

Rivieccio contacted the police, but was told due to budget cuts, quality of life issues are simply “on the bottom of the totem pole right now.”

He felt that some of drug use was the result of Project Renewal men’s shelter at 3114 Villa Ave., but stressed that the project is not to blame for everything.

Rivieccio has also spoken at community board and precinct council meetings, yet nothing has changed.

“It’s almost reminded me of the 1970s,” he said. “I understand we can’t go back to the way the neighborhood used to be.”

Fellow Bedford Park resident Shannon Gilstad shared his concerns. Gilstad, 37, said things have really gotten worse within the last five years.

Gilstand told the Bronx Times that she spoke with Community Board 7 District Manager Ischia Bravo about this and was told it is a borough wide issue.

According to Gilstad, Villa Avenue was a working class neighborhood, but today is filled with abandoned and demolished buildings and tons of drug use. She often sees men drinking under scaffolding and others coming down off of heroine.

In fact, her husband noticed several cars were broken into and an called the cops. Since none of the vehicles belonged to him, police said there was nothing they could do.

“I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen cops on Villa Avenue,” she commented. “I don’t know what more can be done.”

In addition to Project Renewal, Gilstad claimed that 3188 Villa Ave., also known as Villa House, is said to be getting its residents from NYCHA lists and also has drug treatment programs.

While these buildings are being knocked down and sold to developers who create shelters, drug  programs or affordable housing, she is upset that residents have no say in what is built in their community.

She noted that most of the people on the street are not just homeless, but are also drug addicts.

“These types of developments are being concentrated in certain communities,” she said. “This will affect us for generations. Meanwhile, on the Upper West Side, the rich got a lawyer and sued the city for turning hotels into temporary shelters for COVID. This is what we face in the Bronx and have for the better part of five decades.”

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