Gil Scott has a poem called, "We Almost Lost Detroit" but with the influx of whites and Latinos into the upper west side, we've lost Harlem in the re-gentrification of the Black Mecca USA.
Truth is, we, never, really, really had Harlem. If you look at how Harlem was blackified, that portion of Manhattan was allotted with conditions to black folk in the early 1900s because city developers needed to fill the numerous empty buildings that were initially designed for Jewish families after WWI.
New York is such a funny place for us Negroes. It tickles me pink to see all of the urban lingo and intelligentsia that comes through Harlem.
Would think that all of that thinking could actually transpire into some type of economic revolution. But Marcus Garvey was trampled, then the Harlem Intelligentsia. Then the various black nationalist and liberation movements. Ma$e and P. Diddy were disempowered. Jim Jones killed hip-hop and then G-Dep turned himself into the police. Oh lawd, G-Dep gone? We dun now.
But how does gentrification happen? The formula is complex, but the standard elements are very general. A community experiences a social, cultural and economic implosion due to external and internal dynamics, thus weaking the real estate, commercial enterprise, educational development, and overall community progress.
It is replaced with chaos, disorder, economic neglect, political under-representation, and dumbing down of the value of the community, and the education of the future children.
The state of an area becomes so blighted, that it leaves it vulnerable and in need of a savior. And then THEM comes. Who is them? Largely corporate interests mixed in with some Captain Save'em's. That is a combination of big business interested in controlling communities for capital gain and those who want to bring "new life" into a community, and blaming the "old life" for its under-development.
THEM's say gentrification is good, and brings life into the neighborhood. But an element is missing in this change.
When gentrification usually happens, the historical residents are displaced. Taxes increase, rent increases, and are pushed out in various reasons.
On the flip side of the this issue, when it comes to black neighborhoods being gentrified, you have numerous amounts of black people who grew up in communities they would never step their baby toe into again. To be around these people would put them in a lower cast, again. So they break their necks to move to the suburbs, and rear their children around good people.
Give you a good example, when crack hit Harlem, there were so many abandoned buildings in the 1990s, that gutted brownstones were going for $15. Yup, $15. A chunk of us didn't want to touch them because they were in neighborhoods where the crack epidemic was its highest. Now, these renovated buildings start at about $1 million.
And when THEM began to buy homes by the hundreds and renovate. Of course, the police acquiesced the new neighbors, and a structured income system slowly dripped into this community.
And when I saw a white couple walking a miniature poodle in Harlem back in 2001, I knew that the neighborhood was over.
Here is a great article detailing Harlem Gentrification
Harlem: The New Frontier?
A Brief History of Gentrification Uptown
By Julian Brash & Neil Smith
'Harlem is the last great frontier of Manhattan real estate,' gushes Barbara Corcoran, manager of an elite New York real estate brokerage. 'There are many wonderful things happening in this historic and beautiful area.' Others are calling it the new Harlem Renaissance.
Wonderful things do happen in Harlem but gentrification isn't one of them. Since the city's real estate market exploded in 1996, Harlem has had a bull's eye on its back as brokers and developers have made fortunes buying and selling brownstones for renovation. Victorian mansions have been gutted, and refitted with intricate wooden staircases and period chandeliers; black professionals, white gays, students and many others have followed the developers, desperate to find a place to live in a borough where last year the average apartment price was recorded at $770,000. 125th Street (which no-one calls Martin Luther King Boulevard) has been reinvented as a suburban mall. Gone are many of the street vendors and small shop owners, replaced by the large logo stores such as Disney and Old Navy. The jewel in the crown is the mall, 'Harlem USA.' And a new first run movie theater, thanks to Magic Johnson's real estate company.
Local entrepreneurs give tours to the famous streets, clubs, restaurants and Harlem Renaissance sites as well as the Teresa Hotel where Fidel Castro came to stay in his famous 1960 snub to the US government, the Audubon ballroom where Malcolm X was assassinated, the route of Nelson Mandela's walk through the neighborhood a decade ago. For an extra $30 a visit to a gospel church is thrown in; for $40 further you can thrill to all this at night! Others give architectural brownstone tours to Strivers Row, Astor Row or the Mount Morris Park Historical District, directly encouraging gentrification. So many bus loads of tourists are coming to Harlem now - mostly European and Japanese - that the churches have had to issue rules of appropriate behavior - no flashes during prayers please.
For folks who have lived there for decades, surviving the bad years when no outsiders cared about the place, the conversion of their neighborhood into a frontier is a mixed blessing to say the least. In the early 1980s, banks and other private lenders totally redlined the neighborhood, dribbling a paltry $2 million of mortgage money into Central Harlem. By 1993, the figure for the whole of Upper Manhattan, dominated by Harlem, was $163 million rising in only five years to an astonishing $686 million. Two of the biggest banks in Harlem real estate today, Citibank and Chase Manhattan, were entirely absent twenty years ago.
|While black people celebrated the arrival of the first "black" president, they didn't know that "There goes the neighborhood" would follow.|
Listening to real estate agents like Corcoran or reading the New York Times, you would think that Harlem residents should rejoice. They are now apparently getting what they were long deprived of: mainstream mortgage money, loans, home ownerships, shops, amenities. But they don't give away these new windfall loans with lottery tickets. Whereas the average cost of a Harlem building in 1982 was $47,500, today that would hardly make the down-payment. Buildings now routinely sell for $300,000 to $600,000 and often require hundreds of thousands of dollars of renovation. Even without the renovation costs, it takes a household income of almost $100,000 to begin to afford the cheapest of these buildings. By contrast, the median household income of all New York City homeowners is only $50,00 so only the wealthiest New Yorkers can now afford to go 'back to Harlem,'as Claude McKay put it. In Harlem itself the median household income in 1999 was only $20,000. Homeownership on the private market is no solution to the Harlem housing crisis.
The City's housing policies don't blunt the gentrification of Harlem. Gentrification is the policy. Vacant or abandoned properties that could provide urgently needed cheap and good quality housing for Harlem residents and others are instead transferred to the private sector where rents and prices go through the roof. The city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, claims to have facilitated the renovation of 6,000 Central Harlem housing units in the last fifteen years, evenly split between owner-occupied and rental units. This more than doubles the number of owner occupied units in the neighborhood. Even the more affordable rental units are disproportionately targeted at 'moderate' income households earning between $30,000 and $75,000. Some city programs such as 'City Home' fuel real estate speculation and escalate brownstone sale prices, according to recent research.
And then there is the HUD debacle in which developers and landlords, masquerading as non-profit churches and community groups, received federally backed loans for rehabilitation but instead 'flipped' the buildings they bought to unsuspecting buyers. 160 buildings that could be housing homeless people are instead left in ruins and the feds and banks are left holding bills for $50 million of bad mortgages. Because this scam victimized well-healed would-be gentrifiers, it has received a lot of press. Where are the press reports about the majority of working class Harlemites struggling to afford rising rents in the crumbling ungentrified buildings?
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