Whose Barrio?

Spanish Harlem’s Gentrification (or Development) Examined By Carolina Baker

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We attended a private screening of Ed Morales and Laura Rivera’s Whose Barrio? The documentary takes a look at Spanish Harlem as real estate speculation increases property values past the point of affordability for locals. Over the last few years, Spanish Harlem has seen an influx of people that can afford higher rents than longtime residents. The higher income of new residents creates upward pressure on rent. One local is "flabbergasted that one bedroom apartments are renting for as much as $1,700 a month".

Throughout the film, Ed Morales narrates his relationship with El Barrio. Morales credits the neighborhood as being the birth place of salsa dancing, hip hop, and graffiti art. Local residents are interviewed, outraged that they can no longer afford to buy a home in their district. They also believe powerful people want to kick them out. Likewise, incoming residents are skeptical of locals, doubting the legitimacy of the public housing that surrounds their new apartment complexes.

Everyone agrees that change is inevitable. Yet there continues to be a struggle over who gets a say in what is called Spanish Harlem’s development by some and its gentrification by others. City councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito believes Spanish Harlem’s gentrification is unavoidable. Her role is to defend the community by extracting concessions from developers while fighting for affordable housing and the retention of the neighborhood’s ethnic groups and customs.

As long as the different communities within Spanish Harlem continue to distrust each other, it will be difficult for residents to benefit from the synergies that do exist when people of mixed incomes cohabitate. The overall perception from both sides is that residents shouldn’t be priced out of their own neighborhoods. As a local resident said, "Come join us in our community, but please don’t take over".

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