Newly-elected State Sen. Brian Benjamin is continuing his campaign promise to eradicate the use of the term “SoHa” to describe Harlem.
On Monday, Benjamin, along with former Gov. David Paterson, City Councilman Ydanis Rodríguez and former Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, held a news conference and rally in front of the Apollo Theater on 125th Street to denounce the term being used by real estate brokers as a marketing tool.
“SoHa” is short for South Harlem, similar to how SoHo is used for South of Houston, the Lower Manhattan neighborhood. Similar changes to neighborhood names include “SpaHa” to describe Spanish Harlem and SoBro for the South Bronx, all intended to entice new residents.
Although “SoHa” isn’t yet part of uptown vernacular, Benjamin added that real estate teams are using it in their circles and marketing materials to entice people to move to Harlem.
Benjamin said that he’s received numerous complaints from people about the term “SoHa” being used. A recent one involved a real estate broker who took offense when a rival company asked her if she wanted to join their “SoHa” team.
During his time as chair of Community Board 10 before his election as senator, Benjamin said he wanted to pass a resolution to stop the name change. He also spoke to community members and found a brewing energy about the issue.
“I was born in Harlem Hospital,” he said in an interview. “I’m not from Manhattan—I’m from Harlem. Harlem just means so much to my identity and my sense of self because of the history, particularly the Black history that I feel I am a part of.”
The resolution was passed while Benjamin was running for senate. While on the campaign trail he vowed to introduce legislation to take things further. Earlier this month he introduced Bill S6616, the Neighborhood Integrity Act, which requires community input before any renaming of any historic, traditionally recognized neighborhoods.
“It’s easy to be insensitive if it’s not your history. There are people who feel like a sense of loss. There are people who grew up here and their kids can’t afford to live here. The history and what they thought was theirs is now being given to someone else. That someone else is saying to them, ‘I’m going to ignore that you were even here in the first place,’” said Benjamin.