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Monday, July 24, 2006

Gentrifying Harlem

The Harlem State office building

Harlem to Clinton: you're ruining us
Gentrification since former president moved in sees rents rise by 100 per cent, forcing poor black families out
By Nicholas Wapshott in New York
Published: 23 July 2006

Bill Clinton's decision to site his office in the largely black Manhattan neighbourhood of Harlem, as a gesture of solidarity with African-Americans, appears to have backfired.

Dozens of angry blacks demonstrated last week outside the building that houses the former president's staff, claiming that his move had led to the gentrification of the area and increased the price of homes beyond their reach.


But his move to Harlem, known as the Black Capital of America, has had unintended consequences. The protest march by 40 mainly elderly people to 125th Street was organised by the Harlem Tenants Council to protest at property prices, which have rocketed since Mr Clinton moved in.

The booming American economy and the enormous demand for Manhattan property has already caused Harlem and other New York areas previously the preserve of blacks and Hispanics to soar. Rents have nearly doubled in Harlem since 2000, when Mr Clinton left the White House to support his wife, Hillary, and her career as the junior senator for New York. A one-bedroom flat which used to rent six years ago for $800 a month now costs $1,400, according to Valerie Orridge, president of the Savoy Park Tenants Association.

The Washington Post records that the top price for a brownstone terrace house in Harlem in 2001 was $400,000 (£215,000). Now a fully renovated townhouse costs as much as $4m. Even this is a relative bargain: 30 blocks south, similar houses which need considerable renovation start at $5m.

Harlem is home to young black professionals who can afford the inflated prices and are undeterred by the noise and late-night roistering of Harlem street life. As prices rise sharply, the area is fast becoming more staid and crime is falling.

Which is why the simplistic view of black people loving Clinton without reservation is really not true. The relationship is far more complex.

But Clinton didn't start gentrification in Harlem, it was already being gentrified when he got there. The begining of the revival of 125th St was in the early 90's when the street vendors drew people to what had been a dead commercial strip for 20 years. The store owners, in what was a brain dead move, demanded Guiliani force them from the strip and down to 116th St. Which he did. Only problem, what could have been a bulkwark against the large stores moving in, they were gone. Once the street vendors were gone, it was open season on stores. Everything from Old Navy to Blockbuster sprung up.

The biggest fight was over the Pathmark between the slowly developing eastern edge of 125th Street. Dominican supermarket owners bitterly opposed the opening of the store, and had some pull, despite their miserable hiring records, often crappy food and high prices. When Giuliani made the deal to build the Pathmark with the Abyssinian Baptist Church, that was the real start of the gentrification of Harlem.

The State Office Building had been built to trigger such a change, but didn't.

The real reason is that Harlem has the last undeveloped housing stock in Harlem. And despite the article's suggestion, most of the streets in Harlem are quiet. The numerous brownstones and easy access to transportation make it attractive to many black professionals. The sign that Harlem is changing are the numerous boutiques and small restaurants opening along the avenues, mostly by black professionals starting their own businesses.

The fact is that the gentrification was delayed by high crime rates, but is to some degree inevitable. The problem comes in with greedy landlords who see vast profits and illegally
try to evict these people.

posted by Steve @ 4:06:00 AM

4:06:00 AM

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