Harlem residents are stepping up their battle against a push to rename their neighborhood SoHa — with a proposal to make the rebranding illegal. NY1 Manhattan Reporter Michael Scotto has the story.
For the second time in a month, Harlem residents took to the street Friday to fire back at realtors, developers, and retailers trying to rebrand the historically black neighborhood as SoHa.
"To come now, yesterday, and rename our community — where do they get off at? Where do they get off at?" resident Cordell Cleare said. "It is disrespectful to us!"
The name SoHa, short for South Harlem, refers to West 110th to 125th St.
Residents say the name has been given visibility by real estate agent Keller Williams, which has set up a SoHa-branded team.
Newly-elected state senator, Brian Benjamin, announced Friday legislation to make it harder to change neighborhood names.
His bill would fine real estate firms, like Keller Williams, for using terms like SoHa.
"This bill, if passed, would mandate the city to take action to create a process for doing what we're asking for, which is to make sure that traditionally recognized neighborhoods' names are not changed," Benjamin said with demonstraters.
The Real Estate Board of New York says it agrees with the general thrust of the legislation, but it's unclear how such a law would withstand a First Amendment challenge.
What isn't disputed is the fierce backlash from long-time residents, who say newcomers are trying to erase Harlem's history as a center of civil rights and African-American culture.
"It's almost like a Ku Klux Klan-veiled attack on a neighborhood," Manhattan City Councilman Bill Perkins said.
Officials at Keller Williams refused to talk with us on camera:
Official: Can you please step away?
Scotto: But why can't you make a comment?
Official: We'll call the police.
Other realtors are staying away from the term SoHa to describe the neighborhood. That's because they say Harlem is an iconic name.
"I don't think by trying to rename or segment, I think that it does it a disservice," said Faith Hope Consolo of the real estate company Douglas Elliman. "I think Harlem speaks for itself."
The legislation is unlikely to move forward in the state senate, but that's not going to stop Harlem's powerful residents from trying:
"Don't mess with Harlem," former Congressman Charles Rangel said at the rally.