HARLEM — A state senator has introduced legislation to prevent brokers from trying to rename traditionally recognized neighborhoods — and says he will try to impose fines and other penalties for those who do.
Newly elected Harlem state Sen. Brian Benjamin believes the Neighborhood Integrity Act, which he introduced Wednesday, will curtail real estate professionals and developers from trying to rebrand neighborhoods across the city, including an attempt to market a slice of Harlem as "SoHa”
Neither "SoHa" nor South Harlem are official demarcations, but the moniker is supposed to identify a part of Central Harlem spanning from West 110th to 125th streets.
“If any name changes are going to happen [the community] needs to be a part of that conversation,” Benjamin said Friday morning, flanked by community leaders and other elected officials who gathered to discuss the legislation and continue rallying against the "SoHa" push.
His proposed measure states that real estate brokers rename neighborhoods “in order to rebrand an area as more desirable for affluent New Yorkers," thereby “artificially inflating housing prices in newly renamed or redrawn neighborhoods to the detriment of working families and middle-class residents.”
It also notes that by doing so, realtors may be flouting state law by not disseminating “information that is accurate about the property or listing being marketed.”
City Council Member Bill Perkins said the "SoHa" name is “almost like a Klu Klux Klan-veiled attack on the neighborhood.”
“This is what Columbus did to the Indians,” Perkins added. “You just can’t scribble something on the floor and rename it.”
Benjamin's bill proposes issuing fines to realtors or agents who advertise properties with rebranded names. However, Benjamin said he doesn't know whether his bill could be torpedoed by legal issues, including First Amendment rights of free speech.
He didn't say what the levels of fines would be or who would be responsible for enforcement.
The legislation would also create a community process to rename traditionally recognized neighborhoods and add a framework for the city to create its own multi-step process, as well as working out any legal challenges for enforcement, he said.
Benjamin said he will work to get the bill passed through the state Legislature. Harlem Assemblywoman Inez Dickens plans to introduce the same version of the bill next week, he said.
“We will pass this bill,” Benjamin said. “I will call people out if they get in the way of this bill.”
Harlem District Leader Cordell Cleare praised the legislation, saying developers are simply trying to boost profits by renaming neighborhoods.
“The name and the action they are taking are displacing so many in our community,” she said.
Geoffrey E. Eaton, the president of the NAACP’s Mid-Manhattan branch, said he would protest to stop the "SoHa" effort in its tracks.
“If we gotta boycott, we’ll boycott,” he said. “If we gotta, march we’ll march.”