A Nehemiah resident and EBC leader stands in front of one of the newest Nehemiah homes, Nehemiah Spring Creek in East New York. (Courtesy of EBC)

The Nehemiah Homes

How a community, long ignored, built power, demanded housing and won. 

By Peter Senzamici

Forty years ago, in Brownsville and East New York in the heart of Brooklyn, people felt abandoned by the city. Crime was skyrocketing. Abandoned, and sometimes occupied, tenement buildings caught fire and smoldered for days. Lots filled with rubble sat empty. It was like a bomb went off, remembers one lifelong community leader.

In 1978, a group of residents and clergy, with help from a community organizing foundation, got together and not only addressed some of the most pressing concerns in the neighborhood, but within three years they broke ground on what would be 5,000 well-built, brand new and spacious homes for first-time, low income homeowners.

And the way they did it wasn’t by donating money or doing local politicians favors. They did it by building power through relationships and trust. They demanded housing from the city and they got it.

Music – Peter Senzamici and Vincent McClelland. Carmelia Groffe, interviewed by Jessica Roseberry on November 15, 2012, in Manhattan, New York, digital audio file. Baylor University Institute for Oral History – Interviews – Shiloh Voices project