SOUTH BRONX — The Bronx isn't burning — it's gentrifying.
Gentrification began long before a developer put up a billboard in the neighborhood calling it the "Piano District," according to a new report from NYU's Furman Center, which defines gentrification as low-income areas of the city that have seen rapid increases in rent.
Mott Haven/Hunts Point and Morrisania/Belmont were the only two areas in The Bronx to make the report's list of 15 neighborhoods in the city that fit the description. Others on the list include Astoria, Williamsburg and the Lower East Side.
Average rents in Mott Haven/Hunts Point rose by 28 percent between 1990 and 2010-2014, and they increased by 23.5 percent in Morrisania/Belmont during the same time period, according to the report.
The share of adults with college degrees also rose in both areas between 2000 and 2010-2014, rising from 4.8 percent to 9.2 percent in Mott Haven/Hunts Point and from 7.6 percent to 10.9 percent in Morrisania/Belmont, the report shows.
But average income in both areas dropped by more than 10 percent during the same time period, according to the report.
Overall, the 15 areas the report classified as "gentrifying" also saw increases in their white populations, as well as decreases in their black populations at a larger rate than what the city experienced as a whole.
Mott Haven in particular has recently emerged as one of the centers of the gentrification debate in The Bronx, as real estate forecasters have long predicted that the neighborhood could become New York's next hot spot due to its industrial buildings and proximity to Manhattan.
Controversy over such predictions boiled over in the fall, when a billboard went up in the neighborhood saying that the "Piano District" was coming soon, leading many residents to view it as an attempt to gentrify and rebrand the South Bronx.
STORY CONTINUES BELOW MAP
Mychal Johnson, a member of the neighborhood group South Bronx Unite, said he was not surprised that Mott Haven was classified as gentrifying. However, he was surprised to see it published in a report, as he did not know the trend was widely known outside of the neighborhood.
"Most striking was the overall knowledge citywide that Mott Haven is being gentrified at such a large and alarming rate," he said.
He called on developers to abide by the statement of principles created by South Bronx Unite to help avoid problems that might come along with gentrification, including setting aside housing and construction jobs for local residents.
But others weren't fazed by the statistics.
A 28 percent increase in rent over about 20 years does not seem particularly extreme, said Michael Brady, director of special projects at the economic development group SoBRO.
"Comparatively speaking, not just in New York City but throughout the rest of the country, a 1 percent rent increase per year is not unheard of," he said, "and it does keep up with the cost of living and also the cost that the property owner incurs to maintain those buildings."