In the three years since Jennifer Fuentes and her husband, Jose, moved to the Bronx, the 31-year-old has never been for a run. She used to jog regularly when she once lived as a single mother in a luxury building in Manhattan’s diverse and bustling Hells Kitchen. Now married with four children in the middle class Throggs Neck neighborhood of the Bronx, Jennifer has to drive to a dirt track to run: “It’s so boring,” she said.
Running along the Hudson River lined with greenery against the backdrop of the ever-changing skyline is one of a long list of Manhattan amenities Jennifer and Jose, both Bronx court officers, regret losing. In exchange for far more space and much cheaper rent in this leafy urban northeast Bronx neighborhood, Jennifer believes she has sacrificed the upscale social life and better schools Manhattan offered her children. So the couple tries to bring the best of both boroughs into all their lives.
The Fuentes family rents a three-bedroom apartment for $1,600 a month on the top floor of a private house owned by a Puerto Rican businessman. The drafty brick home has high ceilings, wooden doors and cupboards in various states of disrepair. Her neighbors she said are all Puerto Rican, including a young couple and the ex wife of the landlord. “My neighbors are nice,” Fuentes said, “and I feel safe in my house.”
According to the 2015 Census, the median household income for the upper-middle-class Throggs Neck area is $64,538. The Fuentes’s combined monthly income of $64,000 makes the rent affordable. They are within a two-hour drive from the Bronx Supreme Court where they work the day shifts together. Still, they long for Manhattan.
Before Jennifer met Jose, she lived on a swanky block on 57th and 11th Streets in Manhattan. Jennifer had won the apartment in 2004 in a housing lottery for low-income families. She paid $600 a month for the one-bedroom apartment in a mixed-income building where the same apartment went for $2500 a month.
Her neighbors were mostly white, middle-class professionals; an eclectic mix ranging from doctors and bankers, to Supreme Court Judges. At one point she even had Chelsea Clinton as a neighbor. “They were all rich compared to me,” Jennifer said; all but one Brazilian woman, who became her only friend.
In 2008, pregnant with her second child, Jose moved into her one-bedroom Manhattan apartment. The couple and the children all slept in the same room with a Cordion screen separating them. As the family grew, Jennifer realized they had to find a larger home. She explained, “I just wanted to get a house where I had a bedroom where I could shut the door at night.” By 2012 she was pregnant with her fourth child. “We had to move out of Manhattan, because the rent was far too much for what we could afford,” Fuentes said.
The couple still frequents the hip, trend bars and clubs in Manhattan. “We never socialize with our friends in the Bronx,” said Jose. And the children, now aged 3, 5, 6 and 12, still go to school in Manhattan.
“I went to school in Manhattan with the kids of doctors and judges,” Jennifer said. In the Bronx they just teach you stuff from the textbook but, in Manhattan they teach you stuff about arts and culture.
When asked if there are any benefits of living in the Bronx, they both respond, “Nothing.”
—By Muna Habib