MEET VALERIE

Words by Sydney Edwards

The 83-year-old president of Savoy Park’s Black Tenant Association appears at the front door and greets us with warm but apprehensive handshakes. She is wearing a gray acrylic beanie, gold hoop earrings, a heather gray “London” pull over, white denim jeans, and silver reading glasses on the brim of her nose. “Will this be long?” she asked us, “I have to go to get my hair done. We let her know that we’d keep our interview brief and she lets us enter her apartment; where we were immediately transported to the 1970’s (It’s worth noting, up until this point I’d only been exposed to my fairly newly renovated $1400.00 a month studio apartment). Ms. Orridge’s two-bedroom, one-bath apartment is filled with 40 years of memories, decadence, and an avocado green harvest gold color scheme.She points to a few paintings hanging on her wall and explains that they are from a Brazilian painter from Bahia. We discuss the brushstrokes and what they could possibly mean and then she gets settled on her maroon colored chair, piles of paperwork on the desk, 

and prepares for questioning. “Things are not good here.” the retired nurse and mother of one says. “Savoy used to be called Delano Village and was known as the blue collar complex for black people. Lenox Terrace was for the doctors and lawyers. Management was much better back then.” The Savoy Park/Lenox Terrace comparisons are still relevant today, with slight differences like shared Savoy security versus. Lenox Terraces doorman in each building. “I’ve been through 3 different owners so far and AxelRod was the best. Now the owners are slow to repair things and there’ve been many bedbug outbreaks.”Ms. Valerie has lived here since 1959, when this urban renewal project began and pays $989 for her two-bedroom apartment where she raised her son. “It’s just impossible to get repairs done.” That is why she became president of the Black Tenant Association. “Other races can be at the meetings of course but we’re focused on protecting the black tenants that have always lived there,” she says with much conviction.

 
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promised.” I don’t believe anyone would disagree with Ms. Valerie on that. Before we leave her apartment and mentally prepare for the frigid cold ahead of us, we thank Ms. Valerie for her time. Assuring her that we would send a copy of the photographs once the project was complete. Unfortunately, that time never came, as she passed away a few short months after the interview. A fact I discovered on a paper posted on the elevator up to my apartment; this was not bizarre to see as there is large population of rent controlled senior citizen tenants living in Savoy. Ms. Valerie, is truly the epitome of the beautiful complexity of living in a gentrified area. Her 2 bedroom 1 bathroom apartment will no doubt go up for at least $2500. A “reasonable” price in this market for a non- native Harlemite. In yet I question whether this new tenant will appreciate and emerge themselves in this eclectic and effervescent neighborhood.

As one flyer says “The purpose of our being there is to collect data from tenants that have complaints of overcharges, inability to get repairs done, and any other issues so that we can deliver them to the appropriate party.”In fact, some tenants were so frustrated by rising rents and failure to maintain the building, that in 2014 80 tenants signed an application filed with the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, which was based upon a building-wide decrease in services. The Tenants Association repeatedly brought these violations of the order to the landlord’s attention. And an action was filed in state Supreme Court on behalf of 47 of the tenants listed on the rent-reduction order, seeking approximately $700,000, refunds for the rent overcharges they paid plus treble damages. Savoy responded by sending the 47 tenants rent-refund checks that amounted to over $250,000. “I think we deserve affordable housing and the services we are 

Will they get their hair done at Hannah’s Salon right across the street or eat at the catfish spot on 132nd and Lenox? Will they go to the high school basketball tournament’s in the summer or throw a party at the Harlem YMCA? Will they visit the Studio Museum in Harlem or learn something new at the Schomburg Center? I know I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t done all of these things during my 2 year stay in Harlem. 

But, despite all the changes I’m hopeful that Harlem will continue to persevere. This neighborhood is known as one of the most famous black communities in the United States: it’s evolved from the amazing African-American renaissance of the 20’s, the devastating crack era of the 80’s and now is in an unnamed era o gentrification. We’ll let history continue develop but until then we’ll leave you with The Savoy Story.

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