We Stay/Nos Quedamos: A Non-Profit Working to Revitalize the South Bronx
As the Bronx becomes increasingly appealing to developers and home buyers, many are understandably concerned about what that means for the mostly low-income community that lives there now. Nos Quedamos, a non-profit formed by a coalition of Bronx residents and business owners, has been advocating for low-income families in the South Bronx since the early 1990s, and has taken steps to make sure the existing community is included in plans for development rather than displaced as a result.
In 1992, the Melrose Urban Commons Renewal Area, a 30-block area in the South Bronx, was designated by the city as a site for developing a home-ownership-based community for middle-income New Yorkers. At the time, approximately 6,000 people with a median family income under $12,000 a year lived in the area. Residents and business owners feared displacement, so they formed the We Stay/Nos Quedamos Committee in February 1993. They developed a proposal for a new plan which included mostly residential buildings that created affordable housing, maximized common spaces, and was eco-friendly and sustainable. By 1994, their plan had been approved by the city and Nos Quedamos had achieved non-profit 501 (c) (3) status.
Before green building and neighborhood design was at the forefront of the city’s priorities, Nos Quedamos was fighting to bring sustainable design to the Bronx – and they succeded. Nos Quedamos’ vision for the Melrose area of the Bronx included 175,000 square feet of commercial retail and office space, 200,000 square feet of space designated for community structures, 4.1 acres of park and public space, and several housing projects. The goal was to revitalize the Melrose community through the creation of affordable housing and opportunities for locally-owned businesses to survive. Sunflower Way, a housing project built in 2002-2004, was the first affordable housing development in the city to receive the Energy Star label. Another project, La Puerta de Vitalidad, included fully-furnished apartments for homeless families moving to the building from shelters. Palacio del Sol and La Casa de Felicidad, also created by Nos Quedamos, included community rooms, lounges on every floor, and outdoor open spaces behind each building. One building received LEED Gold Certification, and the Melrose Commons neighborhood as a whole was awarded LEED Stage II Silver Certification by the US Green Building Council in 2012, the first certification of its kind in New York City.
The redevelopment of the Melrose area of the South Bronx is truly a testament to what communities can accomplish when they stand together. Now that their vision for housing has been realized, Nos Quedamos is working with other local organizations to promote and preserve the well-being of Bronx residents. They teamed up with the South Bronx River Watershed Alliance in 2010 to study land use for the Sheridan Expressway corridor (pictured above) and advocate for turning the area into a community-friendly boulevard with a park, and they continue to work with the city and the community to make that plan a reality. Nos Quedamos has also worked with the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance to advocate for improved environmental conditions in the area, and they have partnered with Our City Our Homes and the Bronx Climate Justice Initiative as well. They provide programming around financial literacy, job development, air quality initiatives, and youth development, while working with housing project inhabitants to address complaints that arise within their buildings. Nos Quedamos continues to be community-led, and has made impressive strides toward creating a thriving, environmentally-friendly, yet still-affordable community in Melrose Commons. They gladly accept donations and they welcome volunteers to help with their various initiatives – just email email@example.com if you are interested in volunteering or donating.
Today, Melrose residents enjoy a robust public transportation network, several community gardens, and a newly constructed park. The neighborhood remains very racially and ethnically diverse, and the median family income is around $32,000 – below the national average of $53,000, but about $10,000 higher than it was in 1993 if we adjust for inflation. Nos Quedamos’ efforts are allowing lower-income and middle class families to get ahead without leaving behind those who still need a hand. It is truly inspiring to see a community take control of the redevelopment of their neighborhood and to ensure that eco-friendly, sustainable building practices are brought to the community.