Harlem resists gentrification, environmental racism

Harlem, New York

Harlem families and grassroots community groups gathered Jan. 28 on West 145th St. and Lenox Ave. in Harlem to protest the operations of a truck stop, which they say was opened in retaliation for their rejection of a gentrification project known as “One45.”

Several rally speakers condemned the luxury real estate developer and former aide to Rudy Giuliani, Bruce Teitelbaum, for poisoning the community and worsening existing environmental issues, causing high rates of asthma and respiratory issues in children.

Harlem rally, Jan. 28.WW PHOTO: Richie Merino

The battle between the predominantly poor and working-class Black community and Teitelbaum began last year, when he proposed “One45,” a $700-million luxury high-rise residential complex that included only a small percentage of so-called “affordable” apartments.

These units required a minimum household income of $112,000 to rent, whereas the median household income for the immediate area where One45 was slated to be built is only $36,804.

Furthermore, most of the units were set to be studio and one-bedroom apartments, which signals that this luxury apartment complex was designed to attract new, young, high-income singles or couples, while excluding the large, poor families who are already living there. The proposed characteristics of Teitelbaum’s One45 indicate it is a gentrification and displacement project; it was never intended to address the community’s dire need for low-income, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments.

Lucky Rivera, the Black and Puerto Rican Coalition director, said the original project was “not affordable for the majority, for 90% of the people that live in Harlem, it’s not affordable for them. We have to stop this; they are just pushing us out economically. That’s wrong. It’s not right.”

Don Curtis, president of United Black Caucus, which organized people living in the neighborhood to fight the development, said: “Nobody talks about poor people. We want at least 60% of the apartments to be affordable to those who already live in Harlem. We want union jobs for this project to go to those who already live in the community. We want a community recreation center for our youth. We want small businesses here that will hire our people.”

Black community wins concession

The protests placed enough pressure on the developer, who eventually withdrew the plans for One45; but he then dumped a toxic truck depot where the housing project would have been. Saturday’s protest demanded that the idling truck stop be shut down and that Teitelbaum meet with community activists to discuss building housing that better fits their needs.

“Comrade Don” Curtis, as he is known in Harlem, says Teitelbaum “retaliated” against the community for standing up for themselves and demanding housing with levels of affordability that match Harlem’s current mean income and need for larger family-size units.

“We came together and defeated One45,” he said. “This truck stop is Bruce’s retaliation. He wants to poison our community and subject us to a slow death. He wants to expose our elders to diesel fumes and other toxic gasses by putting the truck stop here.” Across the country, truck stops are generally located at city limits or on the interstate highways, not in neighborhoods.

The Chief of Staff for local Councilwoman Kristin Richardson Jordan, Giselle Hearne, was present at the rally and spoke out against mainstream, corporate media outlets for portraying this communitywide struggle as a personal spat between Teiteilbaum and Richardson Jordan.

Hearne also condemned media outlets for reprinting lies and distortions told by Teitelbaum without doing fact-checking. While Teitelbaum claims Jordan is refusing to meet with him, it is actually Teitelbaum who refuses to hold meetings with community members.

“We had several meetings with him, where we showed him what Harlem wanted. We put our demands on the table, and he refused to come back. Ultimately, this truck stop is just retaliation, because we said ‘no’ to the original plan. There was even a meeting set up for him by the Mayor and HPD [New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development], and he didn’t even show up to that. We decided to make emails public to prove that we invited this man to work with us to construct a plan for actually affordable housing that meets our community’s needs.”

Gentrification is like modern-day settler colonialism

Gentrification, settler colonialism, white supremacy and police brutality are inextricably linked and exported globally by the imperialist U.S. government. From Los Angeles to Harlem to Palestine, Black, Brown and Indigenous people are systematically pushed out of their homes, forced to live on the margins of society and their existence criminalized.

When luxury developments such as One45 are built in poor and oppressed communities like Harlem, the rents and property values in the surrounding buildings skyrocket, causing longtime residents to be pushed out of the communities where they have lived for generations.

Newer, white, wealthier residents move in, and with that comes increased phone calls to the police, who harass and commit violence against Black youth. What was once the “Black Mecca” of the world is slowly transforming into yet another neighborhood catering to the rich and elite. The legacy of settler colonialism is ongoing, and gentrification has become like its latest manifestation.

Bruce Teitelbaum’s decision to open a toxic truck depot as a response to the people’s demands for actual affordable family housing is white supremacy in action. The developer’s vengeful plan was to add nothing of value to Harlem,  instead it will increase inequality and blight.

Harlem has been given the same false choice given to many other working-class, Black, Brown and Indigenous communities in U.S. cities: Either capitulate to gentrification or suffer the consequences and be forced out. But the people of Harlem have a radical history of struggle against imperialist, capitalist and white-supremacist forces and will undoubtedly prevail with class solidarity.

Housing is for people, not for profit! Harlem is not for sale!

Richie Merino

Published by
Richie Merino

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