By Baye McNeil
Bedford-Stuyvesant is a community in the midst of what some would call revitalization, but what amounts to gentrification. It’s a violent upheaval attached to a looming housing crisis. Beset on all sides and from within, by “forces” seeking to acquire land, property and influence by any means necessary, Bed-Stuy is clearly struggling for survival against this onslaught. Readers of OTP will have read how some of these attacks have impacted property owners and residents of Bed-Stuy; stories that covered predatory lending, the future of public housing, and the likes. But few stories have been as bizarre, heart-wrenching and indicative of the tactics of these forces as the story told to OTP by George Nordike. A story that includes a truck being driven into the living room of his home!
For anyone living on the northwest corner of Bed-Stuy, the portion situated between Classon and Nostrand Avenues east to west and DeKalb and Flushing Avenues north to south, it will come as no surprise that the community is under siege. When most people think of Bed-Stuy dwellings, the vision is either of brownstones, housing projects or slum tenements. But there is also a section in the northwest that was primarily used for manufacturing. Blocks and blocks of warehouses and factories, some abandoned, others still very much in use, and all very attractive to “lofty” real estate developers. Amid this warehouse district are residences, mostly tenements and small wood frame homes, populated predominantly by low-to middle-class Latino and black folk.
Of late, the densely populated Hasidic community of Williamsburg, traditionally separated from northwest Bed-Stuy by Flushing Avenue, has been aggressively expanding across Flushing into this area; reminiscent of the behavior of their Israelite brethren in the occupied territories of the “West Bank.” The tremendous amount of real estate development in the area (a good deal of which, once completed, is exclusively inhabited by the Hasidim) is a clear indication of this. A ride down Myrtle Avenue glaringly reveals this movement. Most of the manufacturing companies were owned by the Jews previously so it was simply a matter of having the area rezoned for residential use. With that accomplished, thanks to the widely reported corruption in our courts, the wheels were set in motion for the bizarre occurrences that have thrown Nordike’s life into turmoil and chaos and brought the Hasidim to his door.
George Nordike is an 84-year-old black man, and a veteran of WWII. “When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941,” Nordike recounted, “I was stationed in Fort Dix, NJ. My unit, part of the then-segregated Army, was sent to NY to guard the bridges and tunnels against other attacks, very similar to what’s going on now.” He would later be sent into combat in Italy. He and his wife moved to Bed-Stuy in the 1960s and bought a home on Sanford Place, off of Myrtle Avenue. His home is one of the few residences on this street dominated by warehouses, manufacturing and, currently, heavy real estate development. Nordike told OTP that in the spring of 2000, Mayer Branch approached him about purchasing his property. Nordike, recently widowed and receiving care from a home attendant, had been remodeling the rental unit he has upstairs but wasn’t resistant to the idea of selling. He requested of Branch some time so that he could sell some of the items in the house first and find another place to stay.
According to Nordike, in June of 2000, Branch approached him again and suggested that since he’d tentatively agreed to sell the home, could he rent out the upstairs apartment to him so that he wouldn’t have any problems removing tenants once he purchased the property. The incentive being that Nordike would be receiving a rental income that would aid him with his various expenses. Nordike agreed to this arrangement and, without a lease, he allowed Branch to move in. Nordike’s rent receipts reflected an $1800 deposit covering 2 months rent and one month security on the $600 a month rental fee. Branch promised Nordike that the apartment would be rented to Jewish students but, according to Nordike, he reneged on that promise and instead moved in an unmarried Latino couple, the male an employee of Branch, and her two kids.
The arrangement was satisfactory until late one evening in April 2001 when a stolen U-Haul truck came crashing through the front of Nordike’s house, plowing into his living room while he slept on the couch. The incident hospitalized him. The five Latinos that were in the truck, caught on videotape, were never caught by the police. Nordike’s insurance covered the damage to the house, but his pain and suffering continues to this day and his medical costs have mounted.
Two months following the truck incident, according to Nordike, Branch informed him that he no longer intended to pay rent for the unit, claiming he’d had a falling out with the couple. When the couple refused to vacate, Branch promised to assist Nordike with the removal of the couple. In the meantime, while Nordike was making every effort to legally evict the couple, they proceeded to wreck havoc in the apartment! Fixtures were destroyed, walls were broken through, and even pipes were pulled out of the walls! The broken pipes caused water damage as well as generated a $2000 water billIt gets worse! During the eviction proceedings, Nordike received some very disturbing knowledge. It seems that Branch, Nordike tells OTP, had claimed to own the property and had produced a counterfeit deed to that effect. Nordike also learned that the couple that had been renting the apartment had been paying Branch a considerable amount more than Branch had been paying Nordike. Also with this deed, Branch was able to obtain funding from the city for repairs to the apartment, none of which was used for this purpose, neither had any of this money passed through Nordike’s hands.
Nordike has since sued Branch for back rent and destruction of his property, but the case is still pending. Nordike, an ordained deacon, is still pretty sharp and feisty for 84 years of age. But the damage to his home and his health concerns are a serious strain on his time, energy and money. However, a certain irony in the situation wasn’t lost on him. “In 1946, my wife and I lived near Delancey Street which was mostly a Jewish neighborhood back then. We had many Jewish friends, and we even helped them raise money for the formation of the State of Israel so they’d have a home,” he said solemnly. “Fifty years later and now a Jew is trying to steal my house!”
A spokesman for Branch, who requested to remain anonymous, categorically denied all of Nordike’s allegations. He asserted that while Nordike had enlisted Branch to procure a tenant for his rental unit, he had never paid Nordike any funds, there was never a lease between them, nor a sublease between himself and the tenant and that he never claimed to be the owner of the property. “[Nordike] is just a bored, unoccupied old man with too much time on his hands. Every stupid little thing bothers him,” said the spokesperson. He refused to get too much into the case, which is still pending, except to say that, “[Nordike] is trying to get money from Branch for no apparent reason. But everything will come out in court.”
Feeling preyed upon, like many of the seniors of the community, Nordike has reached out for help. He has contacted several housing rights organizations as well as the NAACP, but he is yet to receive the assistance he requires. “My hope is that when people read my story, they will become more aware and alerted to what’s going on in our community,” Nordike said. “If I can spare someone the hardship and pain I’ve been going through, then that will be a blessing.”