Harlem: Resisting Displacements

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[Harlem Tenants Rights]

On Saturday, June 21st in Marcus Garvey Park starting at 10 AM hundreds of Harlemites will take to the streets to voice their opposition to ethnic displacement and corporate centered development sweeping throughout Harlem.

The rapid transformation of Harlem through zoning and rezoning encompassing East, Central and West Harlem without a doubt has and will continue to displace thousands of local residents and small businesses.

After decades of public policy neglect, redlining and disinvestment Harlem now stands at the brink of losing its historic status as Black America's cultural Mecca for more than a century. Although development is a welcome relief from abandoned buildings, garbage-strewn empty lots, few service amenities such as supermarkets, rampant drugs and crime, the “revitalization” of Harlem is displacing tenants, driving out local businesses and will impact Harlem's ethnic, political and socio-economic makeup for decades to come if not permanently.

For decades progressive grassroots activists bemoaned the deliberate policy of redlining by banks that today occupies nearly every corner in the "new" Harlem although Blacks are still less likely to receive loans and mortgages than their white counterparts.

Local Community Boards are deluged with complaints from Blacks unable to secure bank loans that will prove even more difficult since the sub-prime mortgage melt down. The economic racism continues virtually unabated as does other forms of institutional racism manifested in high unemployment, the growing class of those permanently jobless, police brutality, poor education, homelessness and youth violence.

Virtually everyone is experiencing some form of economic difficulty including those who thought they were secure in their middle class abodes. Here in Harlem, unofficial reports indicate hundreds of tenants from Lenox Terrace, Delano Village/Savoy Parks, and the Riverton are seeking one shot deals at the Human Resource Administration to avoid eviction only to be denied. Unable to pay rents of over $2,000 hundreds of Black and Latino tenants have been forced out of the former state subsidized affordable Mitchell Lama building of 1,192 units at 3333 Broadway situated at the northern tip of Columbia University's 18 acres expansion.

The same is true of tenants unable to pay escalating rents in Schomburg Plaza and Lake View Apartments in addition to other Mitchell-Lama buildings in Harlem. According to the Community Service Society, a city public policy anti-poverty organization, New York City has an estimated 39,392 units left after losing about 26,254 units from the Mitchell-Lama program over the past 16 years. With accelerated gentrification throughout the city more units are set to leave with some 4,000 apartments in 12 developments on notice to quit the program.

Public Housing has fared no better. Faced with a looming deficit of $195 million for 2008 alone the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) announced a new round of rent increases of 5 to 15% for its "highest income households"; the second increase for the same households since 2006. NYCHA, the largest public housing administration in the nation, administers 2,600 buildings, made up of 406,000 residents. New cuts to close the deficit includes the elimination of hundreds of community centers including all of NYCHA's 94 community centers and 147 senior citizen centers operated by the City's Department for the Aging in public housing.

In addition, hundreds of programs serving youth at risk, tenants with job training, arts and athletic activities are scheduled to be closed. Ironically, while tenants in public housing are facing rent increase but cuts in services, maintenance and social programs NYCHA continues to warehouse thousands of vacant units. A 2005 study found 81% of units remain vacant up to 13 years while over 137,000 families remain on the waiting list. The loss of revenue is estimated in the millions of dollars.

It is against this background that we need to weigh the supposed "community benefits" out of Harlem’s much touted “second renaissance.” The recent approval of Mayor Bloomberg's transit development initiatives in Central Harlem- the 125th Street rezoning from River to River, is on a scale staggering in scope, cost, ultimate displacement and political betrayal.

In April of 2008 Councilwoman Inez Dickens, representing Central Harlem that encompasses Community Board 10, entered into a quid pro quo agreement with the Bloomberg administration in exchange for Dickens to push through the land use proposal in the New York City Council.

Approximately 3,858 luxury units are projected for development in the 24 blocks footprint that expands from 2nd Avenue to Broadway between 124th and 127th Streets. Despite Dickens’ false assertion that 46% of these units are being "income targeted" only 5%, or 200 units are for families earning below $30,000. Even the gentrification-pushing New York Times weighed in to verify this travesty.

But it doesn't get better; only worse. While Dickens negotiated not a penny for anti-eviction services, including emergency rental assistance, youth jobs/programs and support services for Harlem's most vulnerable population --senior citizens on fixed income -- she saw fit to allocate over $5.5 million to upgrade Marcus Garvey Park, funds to cover broker fees and $100,000 plus cost for benefits for an "economic development consultant" whom she will hire.

Columbia University no less got Bloomberg to allocate $150 million for an affordable housing program in its expansion deal; no such luck with Dickens! Central Harlem is poised for office towers, luxury condos, hotels, major retail stores, and luxury condos developed by private landlords who will ultimately score billions in profits, even while receiving public dollars such as the $15 million dollars to Vornado, the fourth biggest American real estate investment trust, for its 21 story glass office tower on 125th Street at Park Avenue.

The handwriting is on the wall.

We, the people of African descent. in Harlem and around the city alone with our allies and supporters must take to the street to voice our opposition, to organize, to agitate, and to raise the consciousness of our people that it is never too late to fight for what is ours.

For the nay-sayers who are quick to point out, "Oh, it's a waste of time, Harlem is gone!" Just remember this is the kind of apathetic attitude those who want a new de-Africanized Harlem are counting on.

Join us on Saturday, June 21st in Marcus Garvey Park for a march across 125th Street to Broadway up to 145th Street across to Frederick Douglass and down to Morningside Park for a 2 PM Rally. Bring water, noise makers, signs, your family, friends and neighbors. Let's stand together on June 21st for a new Harlem that includes all of us.

For more information contact the Harlem Tenants Council at 646-812-5188 or email: Harlem
tenants@gmail.com or visit www.myspace.com/harlemtenantscouncil


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Also visit out sister publications Harlem Business News www.harlembusinessnews.com publications and The Groove Music magazine www.thegroovemag.com

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