From Crack House to Condos

By Jean Sanders

On January 21st 2015; I came home to Bushwick after almost five years in prison. I knew I had changed and so did my neighborhood; from what I heard and read about in the news papers; there were new buildings and business popping up all over the place. But seeing it up close and personal was even more amazing; I felt like a tourist in my own town, and I just had to write about it.

Gone are those garbage filled vacant lots, which were an eyesore to the people that live next to and around them. Gone are those abandon buildings where the homeless would turn into crack houses burning their candles, steeling power from the light poles. Gone are the scavengers that use to strip the pips from the houses to sell for scrap.

Gone are the street pushers that use to stand on the corners drinking and selling drugs, of which I was one. Gone are the run down store fronts that were nothing less than a monstrosity with cock roaches and the rat infestation that would make cats carry guns for protection.

There has been a new wave that has came into Bushwick since I’ve been gone, a wave that has transformed Williamsburg, Clinton Hill, Fort green, Beds Sty, East New York, and even Brownsville will see the effects of gentrification; this new wave has cause the rents to skyrocket 27% in the last few years and is projected to go up another 2.9–3.5% in the year to come.

So on Friday March 13th 2015 I got off the L train at Wilson Avenue in Bushwick, walked the three blocks to my house on Decatur Street, where I was born and raised, where my mother lived for 60 years; who was glad to see me, as she always is when I make it home safe and in one piece. You see it was not always like that, many nights mom was worried and prayed that I would come home off those streets.

After greeting her I said that I was on my way to Wilson Ave, the block where I use to hang out on when I was on drugs and alcohol. Mom looked up at me from her bed with that worried look in her eyes and said “you be careful” don’t worry mom I’ll be ok I said, I’m on a mission; “that’s what I’m worried about” she said, “you know there’s still things going on up there that you don’t need to be around”.

Keeping what my mother said in mind, I went up to Wilson Ave to take a look at a particular house that held many dark memories for me. 580 Wilson Ave is a two-story brick face building that use to be a crack house when I went away; but now it is a home; owned by an LLC. Build in the 1930s, and was sold for $390.000, now it is worth over $600.000 after renovations.

Just going up to Wilson Ave brought back many memories and my belly did a flip, as I thought back to the times when I use to be on drugs and alcohol, and hinging out at 580, where one time the cops raided the building and a few of us ran out of it trying to get away.

Before going to the house I stopped at the Hardware store next door to 580; Nat’s Hardware is ran by a Father and son team for many years, I thought that it would be the best place to start my interviews. Nat Sir and Nat Jr both told me how 580 a horror house, with fights stabbings, and a few overdoses.

The cops use to raid that house and drag everyone out in cuffs, taking them to jail, only to see the same people in there a few days later doing the same thing; Nat Sir said that he was robbed two times at gun point and was going to move if he got robbed again. I asked them where they would move to if they go. Nat Jr said “where would we go? Our whole life is in this place” “we been through the worse and now things are getting better Nat Sir said”

After talking I went next door to 580; As I approached the house my belly did another flip, the house was very different from when I last saw it; there was a black gate around it with new garbage cans, a new white door replaced the old broken wooden door that the cops use to kick in every time they raided the house. I did my breathing exercise said a little prayer, and opened up the gate to knock on the door.

After I knocked on the door, and a young man with blonde hair wearing a black jacket green shirt and blue jeans answered the door; putting on my best smile I introduced myself and ask if I could have five minutes of his time? Nicolas Hodel; who’s name I would later learn, said “I’ll give you one minute” I’m on my way out”

Thinking quickly I asked are you on your way to the subway? “Yes” he said, do you mind if I walk with you? “Don’t mind at all” he said. As we were walking towards the L train station two blocks away; we happen to walk right by the guy who ran the crack house; which is now Nick’s home.

We both made eye contact, and did the head nod acknowledging each other without words, at that moment I had a flashback to the time when we were in 580 doing drugs and alcohol, when suddenly a fight broke out over some drugs, and we had to break it up.

I quickly shook it off and started my brief interview with Nick; I learned that Nick moved into the house six months ago from Hawaii; but also traveled through Europe and Asia, he’s of German and Swiss descent and has an up and coming media company; a few day later I met up with Nick at MacDonald’s on 42nd St near Grand Central Station, and over a cup of coffee we talked about 580.

The day we met at 580 and walked to the train station I told him about the story I was writing, and about the history of 580, even telling him that one of the guys we just walked by use to run that house, Nick said “That’s amazing” I asked him if he looked back the day that I told him about that guy? He said no but he did tell his roommate; and what did they say I asked? “She said this is Bushwick” we both laughed when he said that.

I did about fifty interviews that day from Moffat St to Halsey St and from Knickerbocker Ave to Broadway, going into barbershops, Laundromats, Bodega’s restaurant’s homeowners, old heads from the streets. For the most part the people love what is happening to this side of bushwick; yes there are some angry people, that feel that soon they will be pushed out because of the higher rents and most of the new buildings that are being fixed up, rented or sold, won’t be affordable for the people that lived in the neighborhood all of their lives.

The new wave is here to stay, all the new construction did bring many new people into the neighborhood from all over the world, which is a good thing for some, but even better for businesses that are opening up all over, crack houses are a thing of the past, new homes and business is a thing of the future. If you want to read more of the interviews that I had with the people in the neighborhood? Then go to the link and read the rest of the story, or go to jean.sanders1@gmail.com and I’ll send you more of the story, and we can talk more about the new wave that has come to bushwick.