Location East New York
Price $93,000 ($457 maintenance)
Square feet 1440
Occupants Victoria Heath (project manager, HUD); Natalie Octavia Credle (sophomore, East New York Academy)
We’re sitting in your luxurious off-white living room with cocoa velveteen furniture and a crystal bowl full of pennies and you’re saying you only had to put down $10,000 in cash for this three-bedroom house. [Victoria] I heard about the Nehemiah housing program when my pastor, the Reverend Johnny Ray Youngblood, announced it from the pulpit, and I got on the waiting list. And the day I went to that closing, it was a gorgeous day. The night before, my pastor said in front of everybody, Guess what this lady is going to be doing tomorrow here at the church? She’s going to be closing on her Nehemiah home. There was thunderous clapping.
Nehemiah is the biblical prophet who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. These houses—for first-time home owners only—are so affordable because they’re city-subsidized. No-interest construction financing is raised by the 45 organizations in the East Brooklyn Congregations. They told us how to do every step, how to get a mortgage with a low interest rate. I’ve worked at HUD 22 years making sure apartment buildings are managed properly. I didn’t know about owning. When I moved in, ’98, I was on the couch waiting for the telephone man. I thought, It’s kind of airy in here. I’ll get a blanket. Then I said, Hey, put on the heat. You own this house. I was so used to others being in control. I was raised in East New York, then East Flatbush for 16 years—that’s when I was married—in public housing. You can’t slam doors, can’t have guests if the elevator isn’t working. I just bought a new doorbell for my home, the kind that lights up at night, goes dingdong. I love it.
Your steel-frame house was built in six days, like a magic act, by the Capsys Corporation, right in a Brooklyn Navy Yard building where the ceilings are 50 feet high and they made gun turrets in World War II. It’s funny how the 550 houses look alike, so Levittown, though they come in different colors. One man has 12 stone lions on all his gate posts. I bought the stone balls. I don’t like the lions. And those stone pineapples don’t signify anything.
In the ’80s, 1100 red brick Nehemiahs went up in Brownsville; 600 more are supposed to go up in Spring Creek—that’s where they dug up those dead bodies last year, mob hits—but they say it’s going to be a utopia now with a Home Depot. Unfortunately, the Nehemiah waiting list is closed.
I was wondering if you’re active in your community. I ask because EBC is part of the nationwide Industrial Areas Foundation, founded in 1940 by the late activist Saul Alinsky, who created the model for community organization, believing people should have the power to take control of their own lives. I don’t know about that stuff. I just live in the house. But EBC wants us to build a community, not just own a house. I’m on the transportation subcommittee. We got the city to put signs up to keep trucks from barreling through what is now a residential area. For years this was a torched wasteland.
Many Nehemiahs are owned by single women—on one block it’s over half. Are you close with your neighbors? It took me the better part of a year to know them. It’s slow going. I don’t know why. I’m very involved with my church, the worship choir. That’s how I praise God, with song. And I don’t clean the house unless I have music blasting. I’ve always got my barbecue going. I’m cooking franks, shish kebabs. My sister-friend Kim makes a mean macaroni salad. We play cards on the lawn. We’re grooving to the DJ sounds from the projects on Williams and Dumont. This guy is bad. He’s got to be my age, ’cause all the sounds are cool, r&b, “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.” All day long he plays. He stops just when you’ve had enough. I don’t know the guy, but I know he helps my summers.