Harlem’s newly elected state senator, Brian Benjamin, has called for “swift passage” of his proposed Neighborhood Integrity Act, which would punish real estate firms guilty of renaming city neighborhoods like so much alphabet soup, in an effort to inflate values and boost their profits.
Benjamin’s bill, a retooling of a similar piece of legislation from 2011, was inspired by recent efforts to rebrand southern Harlem as SoHa – perhaps an inevitable descendant of SoHo, NoMad, DUMBO, DoBro, and too many others to name.
Benjamin is a real estate developer and chairman of Community Board 10. Despite this pedigree, his bill would fine real estate companies that make up neighborhood names, and require city approval before a new name could be legally used. The draft legislation carries this three-fold justification: “First, realtors are artificially inflating housing prices in newly renamed or redrawn neighborhoods to the detriment of working families and middle-class residents struggling to remain in increasingly unaffordable communities. Second, neighborhoods are often renamed without regard to its history, culture, character and tradition, thereby resulting in changes to the cultural and historic landscape of New York City. Third, prospective homebuyers and tenants are compelled to pay higher rents or purchase prices than they might otherwise confront.”
Not everyone is on board with the Neighborhood Integrity Act. Writing in Crain’s, Erik Enquist calls the bill “inane” because neighborhood names are unofficial. “It's akin to requiring people to get City Council approval to call New York City ‘the Big Apple,’” Engquist writes, “or to get Merriam-Webster's permission to use a new term like ‘lit’ instead of ‘awesome’ or ‘cool.’”
The man has a point. Nonetheless, some ambitious real estate broker is no doubt busy cooking up “NoWaHi,” for that inevitable day when gentrification invades the nameless neighborhoods north of Washington Heights, which are currently starved for luxury condos.
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