The battle against rebranding neighborhoods for the benefit of real estate brokers rages on, with SoHa—a portmanteau of South Harlem—at the center of it all.
Last month, newly-elected State Senator Brian Benjamin introduced legislation designed to prevent brokers from rebranding neighborhoods without a public review process. And he’s not alone: Congressman Adriano Espaillat, who represents the area, is the latest politician to jump on the anti-SoHa bandwagon, introducing a new resolution calling the attempted rebranding of Harlem “insulting,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
As we’ve noted before, the portmanteau itself has been around for some time: The Times referred to SoHa in a piece about Harlem’s sudden hotness back in 1999, while condos at a building on Frederick Douglass Boulevard called SOHA 118 hit the market in 2006. But while the name may not be all that new, the anti-SoHa backlash has recently begun to pick up steam.
Critics argue that the moniker is an attempt to not only drive up area rents but to erase the cultural history of the neighborhood. “When you remove a name,” Danni Tyson, a real estate broker and member of Community Board 10, told WSJ, “you’re losing something. And with us, Harlem, it means a sense of black culture.”
The portmanteau carries “an underlying subtle racial, economic message,” agreed Espaillat. “It’s very divisive.”
At least some folks in the real estate business are taking note. A spokesperson from the brokerage Keller Williams NYC said the company had decided to change the name of its SoHa team, “with respect to the neighborhood and the people of Harlem.”
Neighborhood names are not, and have never been, set in stone, a spokesperson for the Department of Planning told the WSJ. They’re influenced by a number of things—history, geography, preference—all of which can evolve over time.
But if it’s up to Espaillat, Harlem won’t be evolving any time soon—and it definitely will not evolve to SoHa. Not that he necessarily has to worry too much. “This is Harlem,” lifelong resident Brian McLeod told the paper. “SoHo is SoHo. SoHa? No, no.”