Yes, you read that headline right. Harlem — home of the Apollo theater, 125th Street and Strivers Row — is not a majority Black neighborhood despite its historical connection to Black America.
What might be even crazier is that this has been the case since at least 2008.
Anyone who knows anything about New York City knows that it’s an expensive place to live. Rents that top $2,000 per month are common. Add in the cost of transportation, groceries and basic services and you need to be making close to $100,000 to live in most parts of the city.
Add to that the scarcity of living accommodations and you’ve got a high demand with limited supply. New York builds up because there’s only so much space to expand. And there are only so many roommates you can cram into a two-bedroom apartment to split the rent. (According to this ad, 22 people is the limit.)
Harlem is one of the few exceptions, offering space, affordability and a different vibe from other parts of Manhattan.
“Since 2000, central Harlem’s population has grown more than in any other decade since the 1940s, to 126,000 from 109,000, but its black population — about 77,000 in central Harlem and about twice that in greater Harlem — is smaller than at any time since the 1920s,” says The New York Times.
But there are some surprising details from this article. First, it’s not just White residents, but Hispanics, Caribbeans and Africans who have expanded across Harlem and changed the landscape.
And this isn’t just an issue of gentrification. Howard Dodson, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, says that many buildings in Harlem had fallen victim to fire and disrepair or were just abandoned. So rather than displacing a population, a new one has moved in where the old one had completely gone.
Still, gentrification is happening. Harlem has a disproportionate number of poor people and they could be displaced as developers come in to snap up deals on vacant lots and build properties that have a higher price tag.
Also interesting: not everyone is upset about the changes. Particularly homeowners who have stuck around to take advantage of the renewed interest in the neighborhood.
“There are people who would like to maintain Harlem as a ‘black enclave,’ but the only way to do that is to own it,” said Dodson.