This month, students from the Coalition Against Gentrification published a document entitled “Understanding Columbia University’s Expansion into West Harlem: An Activist’s Guide.” The guide aims to bring together all of the disparate information on Columbia’s expansion into one easily accessible resource.
The document includes census data and statistics on the neighborhoods surrounding Columbia, as well as information on what Columbia’s expansion may mean for those neighborhoods. For example, in the first section, the guide mentions, “Manhattanville is home to around 32,000 people…. The median household income for the neighborhood is $32,617.” It goes on to add, “The implication is that most tenants in the area live at or below the poverty level. The changes in property value that Columbia’s expansion will bring to the neighborhood present an immanent threat of displacement for unprotected tenants.”
There is also information on the recent raids on the Grant and Manhattanville houses near Columbia’s campus, which disrupted the lives of many residents. Public Safety VP James McShane gave his support to these raids in an email to the Columbia community last spring. As the document notes, that email included the information that “Columbia University’s Public Safety Program intends to escalate their surveillance and patrol activity throughout the housing projects, in collaboration with the New York Police Department.”
The majority of the guide consists of a timeline of Columbia’s expansion into West Harlem, from 1991 to 2014. Much of the information in the timeline focuses on protests of this expansion by Columbia students and West Harlem residents. Also significant are notes on Columbia’s use of eminent domain to acquire land in West Harlem. As part of the eminent domain agreement, Columbia committed to hiring a certain number of workers from West Harlem and establishing a $3 million fund for the Grant and Manhattanville Houses. However, according to articles linked in the document, both of those commitments have come into question in the past few years. As of last month, only $85,000 of the fund has actually been distributed, and the number of local workers hired has also been under investigation.
Finally, CAGE lists the sources that they have found useful in compiling this document and in the rest of their research. They also include further questions that they see as important, such as “How does the Columbia administration intend to navigate its relationship to the Grant and Manhattanville Houses from now until 2030?” and “What strategies can Columbia students adopt to mobilize in support of neighborhood residents who wish to remain in their own homes, and improve their living conditions?” More information on their work can be found on their website.