Have We Lost Harlem?

asks King. “If you’re not making over $100,000, you’re not getting qualified for the loan. The other challenge is the amount of the down payment you’ll need to qualify for a loan. It’s going to be 10% to 20%. So on a $500,000 loan, 10% is $50,000, and 20% — that’s $100,000.”

Many of New York City’s subsidy programs operate on a lottery system and offer “affordable” housing to median income brackets way above what has been recorded for longtime Harlem residents in the past. The Renaissance Plaza, located at the corner of West 116th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard, is the largest mixed-use development built in Harlem in 20 years. Containing 241 cooperative apartments, it received more than 4,000 applications, and the apartments were sold to those whose yearly gross incomes were between $25,488 and $140,500. According to Claritas Inc., a consumer marketing information firm, the average household income (HHI) in 2002 was $44,805, 92% higher than the average HHI in 1990. “The people who are complaining the most don’t have the income,” offers King.

Real estate and tax attorney Edward Myers Jr. has been a senior partner with Myers, Smith & Granady Real Estate Brokers on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, between 135th and 136th Streets, for 32 years. He also has witnessed, firsthand, the changing face of Harlem. In 2000, only about 8% of the property purchased in Harlem was by Harlem residents. According to Myers, that percentage is slightly lower today. The overall homeownership rate in Harlem, by residents and newcomers, is about 35%; not including SROs, rentals, co-ops, condos, and government subsidized housing. “There is an influx of people coming in and buying property — mostly whites, including Europeans, who can afford it,” he says. “But quite a large number of black people with money are moving into this neighborhood as well.”

This renewed interest in Harlem is attracting African Americans who want to reclaim it, says Peter A. Moody, a New York City real estate broker. Among them are Essence magazine’s Editorial Director, Susan L. Taylor, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, former basketball star Kareem Abdul Jabbar, poet and author Maya Angelou, and rapper/actor DMX, who says he bought in Harlem because of all the new activity, but also because of its historic contributions.

Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields believes black businesses are successfully staking a claim in Harlem. “I know many black businesses and organizations that are some of the largest owners of properties and businesses like the Harlem USA, Pathmark, and the Harlem Center on 125th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard,” she says.

That was Brett Wright’s plan when he and several of his business associates started looking for property in the late ’90s. Originally from Montclair, New Jersey, Wright says, “There were about six or seven guys from the recording and publishing business. We were going to be the big ballers,” jokes the 34-year-old president of NuAmerica Agency, an advertising and marketing firm based in Harlem. “We were all broke but our idea was, ‘Let’s go