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July 20, 2006
Clinton Wears Out His Welcome

Remember the fanfare when Bill Clinton decided to house his offices in Harlem after the end of his presidency? The community turned out in droves to welcome the man that some called "the first black President," declaring that his decision to lease offices in the area would spark an economic resurgence. His decision and the $354,000 lease created headlines for weeks.

Today, that decision has created different headlines. His formerly enthusiastic neighbors now blame him for the increasing gentrification of Harlem, raising rents and displacing the disadvantaged:

Harlem residents gathered outside President Clinton's office yesterday to protest against the former president as a symbol of Harlem's gentrification and the displacement of its residents.

The Harlem Tenants Council hosted the protest at 125th Street between Lenox and Park avenues that was attended by about 40 mostly elderly, African-American residents of the area. A HTC co-founder, Nellie Bailey, said the primary goal of the protest was to draw attention to what she calls a "housing crisis in Harlem," due in part to displacement because of price increases by landlords and evictions.

"We're hoping to have a dialogue with a president of enormous influence," Ms. Bailey said, "so he can understand the concerns of Harlem tenants," including the lack of a comprehensive, beneficial housing policy and legal services. A Clinton Foundation spokesman, Jay Carson, declined to comment on the protest.

Economic resurgence has its problems, and gentrification qualifies as one of the biggest. As property values increase, landlords have to get better rent and lease terms to keep up with bigger mortgages and tax bills. Property values tend to increase when high-profile tenants start taking up available lease space, such as Bill Clinton did in 2001.

It's unfair of Harlem residents to target Clinton for their woes, or at least him alone. New York has a number of factors that play into the sharp increase in housing costs, most of which have to do with their high tax rates and top-down rent control. The latter comes from a market that has too much demand and too little supply in the first place. Eventually that market effect would have driven people to Harlem for better prices; Clinton just made it trendy to do so.

It's a bit more than ironic that Clinton would get the blame, after the reams of fawning press he garnered for his move to Harlem and the interminable PR of how much the African-American community loved him. Apparently, Harlem residents would love Bill Clinton to go to the Upper West Side for a while.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 20, 2006 7:01 AM

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Bill Clinton really has done it all - which now includes provoking African-American protests outside his palatial Harlem offices. It seems that "the first black president," having generated a lot of publicity and money and such, had the effect of goo... [Read More]

Tracked on July 21, 2006 1:50 AM


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