HARLEM — Real estate professionals greedily branding a slice of Harlem as "SoHa" — short for South Harlem — are eroding the neighborhood's legacy while trying to profit off the area, advocates and politicians say.
Several elected officials, local clergy, community board members and residents rallied at the corner of West 115th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard to deliver two stern messages: "SoHa" doesn’t exist, and it’s not welcome in Harlem.
“You can sell without using the word 'SoHa.' This is Harlem — a wonderful brand, a brand that is known all over this world," said Danni Tyson, a local real estate broker and a member of Manhattan Community Board 10, which covers the area.
“No real estate company, no coffee shop, no business should be using the term 'SoHa' to refer to Harlem. This is a home, this is a culture, this is a place that people visit."
While neither 'SoHa' nor South Harlem are official demarcations, the moniker is supposed to identify a part of Central Harlem spanning from West 110th to 125th streets.
Online real estate listings agency StreetEasy features hundreds of listings for rentals, condos, co-ops and sales using the name.
Even realtor Keller Williams has a dedicated “SoHa” team of realtors in the neighborhood. (A representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment).
“We’re not going to let people who just got here change the name of our community for their profit,” said Harlem District Leader and City Council candidate Cordell Cleare. “This is about greed and lust.”
Although the nickname has been lingering in the neighborhood for about a decade, Tyson has been at the forefront of a recent push to mobilize local leaders against the name, getting the community board to adopt a resolution earlier this year condemning it.
Comptroller Scott Stringer, who attended the rally, recalled when he brought up the issue in 2007 as Manhattan borough president.
“What we realized 10 years ago was this was not about Harlem, this was about real estate speculators taking advantage of a community — the gentrification of a community,” he said.
Now, the community board and politicians are planning to find ways to push back at any continued plans to re-label the neighborhood.
Just-elected state Sen. Brian Benjamin, the outgoing chairman of Community Board 10, said he’s even working on a proposal to legislate the renaming of neighborhoods.
He said he wants to propose a law that would push for a community review of any development project that plans to use a provocative new name for an area while also receiving local or state subsidies.
Benjamin recalled longtime residents telling him, "How dare someone try to rob our culture and try to act as if we were not here and create a new name and a new reality as if the clock started when other people showed up?’” he said. “That is unfair.”
He admitted that it’s a premature proposal, noting that the community can only protest private companies, but he’s “trying to make a statement” and will work with his new colleagues in Albany to flesh out the proposal.