by Jane H Lii for The New York Times

December 4, 1997

Although she owns a four-story building with a park view, Zoraida Burgos said she has not enjoyed looking out her window in the last 30 years. Too often, her view of St. Mary's Park is marred by prostitutes, gang members, drug dealers and abandoned buildings.

But things may soon change for the better for Ms. Burgos, who lives on Beach Terrace between Beekman and Crimmins Avenues. The South Bronx Churches, an alliance of neighborhood congregations, nonprofit local agencies and tenant and homeowner groups that has built 512 affordable homes and housing units in the neighborhood, announced yesterday that it plans to build 240 units of affordable housing on the 16 or so empty lots primarily south of the park by early next year.

The announcement was one more sign of how community and church groups have transformed the South Bronx, rebuilding old homes or constructing new ones, in turn injecting new vitality to the area by drawing working-class homeowners.

Amid cheers from a group of neighborhood clergy members and about 200 spectators gathered near the park, a bulldozer scooped up the earth to break ground for the construction. Although various permits have yet to be issued by the city, participants said they were confident that they would be issued in time for construction early next year.

''We expect the city will keep its promise to us,'' said the Rev. Bertram G. Bennett Jr. of St. David's Episcopal Church in the South Bronx, who is the chairman of the housing task force for the South Bronx Churches.

The new homes are the second phase of the organization's South Bronx Nehemiah Plan Homes, in which the South Bronx churches have adopted the methods of the housing initiative that proved so successful in transforming neighborhoods in East Brooklyn by encouraging home ownership.

Since the South Bronx Churches group was formed in 1987, it has built 224 single-family homes and 288 condominium units on the north side of the park, from 161st Street to Westchester Avenue and from Prospect Avenue to St. Ann's Avenue.

Lee Stuart, the lead organizer of the group, said the new construction would include 150 single-family homes and 90 units of two-family homes from 139th Street to St. Mary's Street, from Jackson Avenue to St. Ann's Avenue. The single-family homes will cost between $75,000 and $80,000 each, and the two-family homes will start at $130,000 each.

She said the overall project would cost about $30 million and would take about three years to complete. The minimum annual income requirement for a single-family home is $21,000, and it is $26,000 for a two-family home. The city is expected to provide a $15,000 interest-free second mortgage for each unit. 

Ms. Stuart said the construction would be broken into 10 stages, with about 30 homes to be constructed in each stage, and would be financed by a revolving trust of $3.5 million in an interest-free loan from two Episcopal churches -- Trinity and St. James -- both in Manhattan, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and three Roman Catholic religious orders that have served the South Bronx for more than a century.

Ms. Stuart said the proceeds from the sale of the homes in each stage would be used to finance the next phases of the construction.

Before the ceremony even concluded yesterday, about 20 people were already crowding near the Rev. John Grange, the pastor of St. Jerome's Catholic Church, to receive applications to buy the homes.

''I've always wanted to own a home, but I don't make enough money to buy anything,'' said Jose Rodriguez, a porter who lives on the Grand Concourse. ''Me and my wife now rent for $500 a month. I think it's time for us to buy a home of our own.''

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