The New Bronx: In Love with the South Bronx

This is part of a series about New Yorkers who have recently relocated to the Bronx. It’s called The New Bronx.

Sarah Hoke and her husband Eric Hoke moved to the South Bronx only a year ago. But they’ve already decided to renew their lease.

“We thought about moving this September to Forest Hill and leaving the Bronx, but it just didn’t feel right,” said Sarah Hoke. “We just love the Bronx. We feel like the Bronx needs us and we need the Bronx.” She said her husband and the church they go to are doing a lot of things to benefit the Bronx, and the Bronx in turn helps both of them think differently and understand people better.

Sarah Hoke
Sarah Hoke in her apartment. Photo by Aria Hangyu Chen / The Ink

Living on the top floor of the building with large windows facing a highway, trees and a few buildings, Sarah Hoke, a 25-year-old nurse working in New York Presbyterian at Columbia University Medical Center, said they had a hard time finding an affordable apartment with all the amenities they wanted.

“We were subletting in Manhattan before we found this gem,” said Hoke, looking around her 750-square-foot industrial-looking apartment with antique furniture and wood floors. The wall is decorated with maps, license plates, bookshelves and the Hokes’ wedding photos.

Originally from Maryland, Hoke came to New York City with her husband in March 2014, in search for job opportunities. They spent 6 months in the Upper West Side and Inwood while looking for a place of their own all over upper Manhattan.

The Hokes wanted outdoor space and immediate access to restaurants and bars. With a budget in the range of $1,600 to $2,400 per month, the Hokes didn’t find much, beyond a “tiny little apartment that wouldn’t even fit a queen bed, with one window that’s facing a brick wall” on the Upper West Side. In Washington Heights, they found an apartment in their price range, but not the surrounding environment that they wanted.

Hoke’s South Bronx apartment costs $1,800 per month. It comes with a rooftop garden that has plants, a greenhouse, a few chairs and couches where Sarah Hokes said she comes to chill “almost every day”, even in the snow. She can bike to the hospital in Washington Heights where she works in just 15 minutes. Her husband Eric found a job at a World Vision office, a charity organization, located in Hunts Point, a half hour subway ride from their apartment.

Besides paying cheaper rent and being close to work, Hoke appreciates the sense of belonging in the Clock Tower. The residents of the building, many of whom are painters, musicians, photographers and entrepreneurs, greet each other in the elevator and occasionally post events and information on their Facebook page.

“Everywhere else I lived in New York, if you saw people in the elevator, you just don’t talk to them,” said Sarah Hoke, “so it’s really an unique place.”

Even though she maintains a good relationship with her neighbors within the building, Hoke admitted that getting involved with the “real community” is not easy. The Hokes, who do not speak Spanish, are one of the few Caucasian couples living a predominantly Latino and African-American neighborhood. She said that she would have to go out of her way to talk to people in local businesses and that both she and her husband are picking up Spanish words to communicate with the Latino locals.

Many of Hoke’s friends and family were appalled by the couple’s decision to live in the Bronx—in fact, even Hoke’s grandparents disapproved, and they were originally from the Bronx. But Hoke said that they came to love the apartment and the neighborhood after they visited.

When she first moved to the Bronx, Hoke was very concerned about the air pollution problem and thought of never giving birth here, but as she looked at residents whose children are doing just fine, she stopped worrying about the issue. And although the couple does not yet have children, the limited resources in the Bronx’s schools are another concern. But Hoke remains hopeful, saying that she noticed a few good charter schools around the neighborhood.

“I love our building the way it is and how inexpensive it is in comparison to Manhattan,” said Sarah Hoke. “I’ll be happy if everything stays exactly the way it was over the next 10 years.”

But that’s not going to happen. Already, there are a few new apartments being built in the neighborhood, and more changes are on the way. “That’s the art of the city,” said Hoke. “Nothing stays the same.”

– Aria Hangyu Chen