Harlem Residents Outraged at Attempt to Rename Iconic Neighborhood

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    Approximately 92% of people now use the Internet in their home search, but as terms like “SoHa” start popping up instead of Harlem, it’s clear that gentrification also plays a part in the search for a home in NYC.

    Community activists report that the term “SoHa” — short for South Harlem — is insulting to the long-time residents living there. In addition, activists and supporters of local Harlem culture have branded this move as another form of gentrification. Names like TriBeCa, Nolita, and SoHo have been used to refer to “trendy” neighborhoods for decades now, but this newest attempt to re-brand a community has been described by some as robbing its residents of their history.

    Community board member Danni Tyson told NY1 that “no real estate company, coffee shop or business should be using the term SoHa to refer to Harlem.”

    The term “SoHa” was reportedly created and given visibility by Keller Williams, a real estate agency that has established a “So-Ha” branded team for the neighborhood. Other realtors have declined to use the term, saying that Harlem is already an iconic name in NYC.

    Residents and city officials are standing up and making their voices heard in opposition to the proposed re-branding of their neighborhood. About 26% of people report spending between nine and 12 hours per day inside, but June alone has seen Harlem residents take to the streets twice in opposition to “SoHa”.

    “To come now, yesterday, and rename our community — where do they get off [the subway] at? Where do they get off at?” resident Cordell Cleare told NY1. “It is disrespectful to us.”

    State senator Brian Benjamin is also supporting community residents, even going so far as to announce legislation that would make it more difficult to change neighborhood titles. The bill would specifically target real estate firms such as Keller Williams for using “SoHa” and other re-branding terms.

    While officials report that the bill may have trouble passing, it’s clear that Harlem residents are standing strong.

    Harlem has served as a cultural and political hub for Black America for many years. As New York City grapples with a housing shortage, the neighborhood is fast becoming a hub for gentrification, too. As Atlanta Black Star‘s David Love writes, “indigenous Black residents are pushed out of communities they can no longer afford, becoming strangers in their own neighborhoods.”

    The justification for many neighborhood re-branding initiatives is money — by bringing money into a neighborhood, the community could improve. But there are other ways to invest in communities, such as improving schools and investing in infrastructure. Something as simple as putting money towards repairing the nation’s water infrastructure could provide somewhere in the realm of 1.9 million jobs.

    While gentrification may bring new money into Harlem, Love writes, it is also pushing current residents out of their own homes because they can no longer afford to live there. And this isn’t an issue unique to New York City, either. Cities across the nation, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Miami, New Orleans, and San Francisco, have all seen the impacts of gentrification in the last decade.

    “Where does it leave us if we cannot even name our own home, much less live in it?” Love writes.