NY Bill Proposed to Stop Brokers From Renaming Neighborhoods Real Estate Brokers' Rebranding to Attract Buyers and Renters Has Sparked Criticism

New York, USA - May 12, 2016: Bars and restaurants at Frederick Douglass Blvd at sunset on spring. Frederick Douglass Blvd is one of the main streets of Harlem (iStock).

Real estate agents who rebrand traditionally-known neighborhoods to promote or advertise their properties could face penalties if a new bill is passed, DNAinfo reported.

On June 7, Democratic New York State Senator Brian Benjamin, who represents the 30th Senate District that includes Harlem, introduced the Neighborhood Integrity Act. If passed, the bill would penalize real estate brokers and agents “who advertise a property as part of, or located in, a designated neighborhood that is not traditionally recognized as such,” according to the bill's summary. It also prohibits such “renaming” or “redefining traditional boundaries” without the input of the community. Violators could face a fine or a license suspension or revocation.

The proposed legislation came amid criticism from Harlem residents, community members, and politicians over real estate agents using the moniker of 'SoHa' to describe the southern part of Harlem. According to the DNA story, real estate company Keller Williams has set up a 'SoHa' team in Harlem, and StreetEasy has been using the name 'South Harlem' in its listings (Keller Williams declined DNAinfo's request for a comment).  'SoHa' was reportedly mentioned in a New York Times article from 1999 in reference to a bar on Amsterdam Avenue with that nickname, according to Crain's. New York Business

Benjamin, a developer who was newly elected as state senator in a special election last month, was quoted as saying in the DNAinfo article that real estate brokers are using the new designation “in order to rebrand an area as more desirable for affluent New Yorkers," and thus “artificially inflating housing prices in newly renamed or redrawn neighborhoods to the detriment of working families and middle-class residents.”

According to a story in Crain's New York Business last April, Benjamin said of the developers and brokers' 'SoHa' moniker: "Harlem has a rich political and cultural history, but there is also another history of rundown streets and crime. These people are trying to separate the two legacies for those who spent a lot of money on condos and brownstones and think of Harlem as a bad word."

Historic Harlem has been experiencing a current real estate boom in the residential and commercial sectors. “People are coming from everywhere,” Abdullah Fersen, CEO of Newgent Property Management in Yonkers, recently told The Cooperator. “Those who can't afford Brooklyn, or, really, anything below 90th Street, are choosing Harlem. And a lot of restaurants are opening; there is a ton of art, exciting activities, many popular bars. It's the new affordable area close to Central Park.”

And it's not just Harlem--other neighborhoods have experienced rebranding attempts, according to an amNY article earlier this month. Among the various nicknames are 'MePa' (Meatpacking District), 'BoCoCa' (Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens), and 'SpaHa' (Spanish Harlem). 

DNAinfo also reported that Benjamin doesn’t know if the Neighborhood Integrity Act could face a setback due to legal concerns such as freedom of speech; he also did not mention how much the fines would be for violators. In his story, Crain's New York Business writer Joe Anuta addressed the possible complications posed by this bill--that neighborhood borders are always changing and evolving due to “collective opinion and not political diktat,” plus the definition of 'traditional' is not clear in the proposed legislation.

As of this writing, the bill's status is currently in Senate committee.

David Chiu is an associate editor at The Cooperator.  

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3 Comments

  • This seems like one of the more ridiculous bills I have ever heard of, and if the state senate wants to maintain affordable housing, or to improve quality of life for NYC residents, there are many more and more important bills that they could be working on, instead of trying to squash freedom of speech. Moreover, in the example that seems to have spurred the bill, it is not the brokers that renamed SoHa, but rather the NY Times. But the senator wants to blame the brokers??! How did this bill even get this far?????
  • This is what happens when decades of poor public policy comes back to bite people. Now instead of redlining and blockbusting, realtors can actively erase history and people with their twee little "renames" of existing historic neighborhoods. Bravo to the legislators and residents who are fighting against this -- I applaud their efforts, particularly in neighborhoods where residents are primarily people of color. It's disheartening to read that in 2017, these cheap tactics are still not only being used, but encouraged.
  • Idiotic bill that's been proposed before only in the city council by another new councilmember. This time proposed by a former real estate broker/developer newly elected in a special election to the state senate with a personal agenda and looking to get his name recognized. He must be a graduate of Trump University. What's in a name? Nothing?