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Town Meeting Demands Action

Story/Photos by Anthony Love Rhodes


Harlem Tenants Council hosted a town meeting in regards to anti-gentrification, a concept that has become critical to the welfare of Harlem. The non-profit tenants council service was created five years ago as a offshoot of ANHD, the Association of Neighborhood Housing Developers. The ultimate goal of the organization is to inform communities of basic housing rights and to integrate action with broader levels of economic information for low income tenants. The meeting was held at the National Black Theater and had a positive turn out of fifty or more tenants and their families.

The panel consisted of executive director of Harlem Tenants Council Nellie Hester Bailey and Jim Haughton, the acting founder of Harlem Fight Back. Organizations such as the ACE, the Action for Community Empowerment represented by Michael Beasley and the Harlem Restoration Project represented by Ricky Jones, both provided a starting point for the action of concerned tenants.


The core of discussion concentrated on gentrification forces inside and outside of Harlem, which are making life uncomfortable for poor and working class Black and Latino families. A survey taken by the council revealed that over 70% of minority households in Harlem earn less than $15,000 annually. Members were infuriated with the large tax subsides that are going to wealthy corporations to develop new markets in Harlem that create a cheap labor pool. The council feels that this money could be used to revitalize Harlem's cultural institutions and funding for Malcolm X Museum. Members of the ACE mentioned funding for a credit union in Harlem which would assist individuals with financing renovated homes. According to the council, Empowerment Zone officials stress the opportunity for new employment options provided to the city when the jobs are non-union low wage jobs which offer few if any benefits.

Bailey notified tenants that a 4-6% increase in rent will be determined in July, implying that Harlem will no longer house the poor. According to Bailey, politicians are using New York City's overall medium income of $55,000 annually to fund the renovation of Harlem. "The sun is setting for the low income families in Harlem and if we don't act swiftly, we will be displaced," said Bailey. Citizens came to a conclusion that politicians are not working for the interest of Harlem but are working to destroy Harlem's cultural and ethnic stability.

Audience participation was, needless to say, lively as current city tenants and organizers reported their experiences. Individuals revealed that lanlords failed to notify tenants of a climbing increase in rent which forced them out of their homes on a short notice. "Their is not one Black politician that is not on the payroll of the people who want us out of Harlem and if way don't act fast then we will remain in this ignorant treadmill until they have taken away our culture in Harlem," said Haughton.

Likewise, Haughton made it clear that meetings cannot be inconclusive but have to progress towards a common goal, focusing on the containment of a historical Harlem. Although various tenants raised the issue of money being the primary setback for minority tenants dealing with increasing rent, Haughton felt city officials were working to carry out a racist objective. "The renovation of Harlem has nothing to do with money, its racism!" said Haughton. Members of the council explained that politicians sovereign above the interest of the citizens and are focused on implementing a new social economic model, aimed at tourist.

The Tenants Council demanded the investigation of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone and the Economic Development Corporation, in hopes to reveal the true intent of city delegates and politicians. The council discussed plans of demonstration against the Empowerment Zone by marching on 125th Street. Members of the council will also begin to prepare newsletters which will circulate throughout Harlem in an attempt to gain additional support from citizens with similar conflicts.


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