Sun, Nov 26, 2017 - Page 15 News List

Gentrification engenders unease in NYC’s Harlem

By Jennie Matthew  /  AFP, NEW YORK

In a city where most landlords require an annual pretax income 40 times the monthly rent, that predicates earnings of US$90,000 per year.

When chef Julian Medina opened a bright new taco joint in East Harlem, he thought that most of his customers would be Hispanic. Instead they are mostly white Americans.

“It’s just crazy,” 42-year-old Medina told reporters at his La Chula taqueria. “And they’re like: ‘Oh, thank you for opening, because we don’t have anything here.’”

During the evening rush, the restaurant is packed with smart young people gorging on beef tongue, pig cheek or sweet potato and chorizo tacos. Its bright, inviting decor sticks out on a street otherwise replete with old-fashioned delis and dollar stores.

“Everything evolves,” Medina said, when asked about gentrification. “This neighborhood needs something like this.”

However, opening a restaurant in East Harlem is not the bargain it might once have been, even for a chef who runs a string of high-end restaurants downtown.

“Back in the day, I would rent this place, I don’t know, for a third of the price, but now not anymore,” he said. “The market in New York is just getting crazy.”

The New School assistant professor of urban policy Rachel Meltzer said that while gentrification brings better services, it is increasingly harder for city authorities, led by left-leaning New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, to mitigate the negative side effects.

“It’s hard. The reality is in much of these neighborhoods that if property is privately owned, there’s not much the city can do,” she said.

However, that is cold comfort to Adams, recalling an attempt by real-estate agents to rename South Harlem “SoHa” — a play on downtown’s eye-wateringly expensive SoHo.

“My bottom line is that if I and other black people who aren’t rich can’t live here, I don’t give a damn what they call it. It won’t be Harlem and they might just as well call it Trump Town,” he said.

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