“Every day I stop for a moment to thank God for being here,” says Daniel, who works in higher education. “I’m going to make the most of it. We’re going to make sure this place is the best it can be.” Walja Moody came to New York from Alabama. She forgot she applied for a Nehemiah home until 14 years later when the application arrived.
“I had just been divorced,” she says. “I was head of the household and thinking, ‘How am I going to do this?’ ” she says. “It’s very fulfilling to be part of a community that is growing and evolving. We are all in this together here. We are not rich people. These homes and this neighborhood are our lives.”
A philosophical architect with a conscious, Alexander Gorlin was aware of the importance architecture would have in the community. He and his firm have been working on the project for 12 years. Gorlin’s take on the updated brownstone for middle-class New Yorkers was honored in an exhibition on prefab houses at the Museum of Modern Art. It feels “heartening,” he says, to walk Nehemiah today.
“You feel the power of architecture at work creating a beautiful place for people to live,” says Gorlin. “There is such attention to detail, like that in a wealthy person’s home, that in ways it confirms that the people who live here are important. All the homes are not alike. They allow for individuality in a communal setting. I think that helps it work.”
Boyce, who has a corner one-family across from the new school, redesigned her kitchen with granite countertops and custom-made cabinetry. She redid her floors a darker wood.
“I had a niece come to visit, and from the outside she said it looked so small,” says Boyce. “When she came in, she couldn’t believe how big it is. When the school opens, it will be wonderful to hear children laughing and playing. We’re working to see how we can help them.”
Set to open in September, the educational structure will house three schools: the Academy for Young Writers, where 60% to 80% of the students live in East New York and Brownsville; the Spring Creek Community School, which starts at sixth grade, and P53K for special-needs students. The high school’s principal, Courtney Winkfield, sees a link between the neighborhood and the school.
“We chose to be in this neighborhood,” says Winkfield, whose school was formerly housed in a Williamsburg walkup with electrical wiring so old multiple computers couldn’t power up. “Not only is it where our students live, it’s a place with strong spirit. We’re discussing mentorship programs to stay connected to our neighbors. The people at Nehemiah are pioneering a new area.”
For EBC, the drive for quality housing and empowered community is constant.
“The homes we build are named after the Old Testament figure Nehemiah, who helped rebuild Jerusalem after it had been destroyed,” says Lindsay. “With each home, we try to embody that same spirit of hope in the face of despair. It’s ironic. This is one of the signature achievements of the Bloomberg third term, but the mayor hasn’t been here. We hope he comes to see this.”
YOU SHOULD KNOW
What: Nehemiah Spring Creek, an affordable housing success story in East New York. Phase three homes start at $190,000 with about $10K down.
Where: Near Gateway Plaza Mall off Flatlands Ave. Take the 3 train to New Lots Ave. and the B6 to Nehemiah Spring Creek near Linwood St.
How: Go to nyc.gov/hpd for lottery info. For more on East Brooklyn Congregations, go to ebc-iaf.org.