Meet the Residents of MacDonough Street

We were the only non-African-Americans going up that set of subway stairs for a number of years.

—Scott Irwin

Tap to see price history of home

Scott Irwin, 55Current Owner, Software Engineer at Bloomberg

I have ten cats. I’ve implemented a program called TNR: trap, neuter, release, but over time it’s become trap, neuter, retain. The neighbors were supportive when I started it. It opened some dialogues. It was clear that I cared about the neighborhood. I wasn’t just someone coming in and displacing somebody. It was clear I wanted to contribute to the block, and that went a long way with my neighbors. Whatever lingering doubts they might have had about this newcomer, this kind of quieted those doubts.  

Knowing my neighbors, they would have been welcoming from the beginning, but it took me a while. I’m not a Bill Clinton — I don’t just immediately glad-hand people. I have to get to know you before I start having conversations with you. When you get off at the A train, there’s two ends. The Stuyvesant end has been historic for a while, and some of those homes have been pricey for a while, and you would see a more ethnically mixed set of people getting off at that end. But at this end, we were the only non-African-Americans going up that set of stairs for a number of years.

There were little trickles, and then a serious surge about a year and a half ago. It was like suddenly this switch was thrown. Last year, there was a lot of buzz on the block because one of the houses sold for over a million dollars and everyone was sort of stunned that their homes were worth that much.

Of the newer arrivals, it’s been a lot of people like me who bought from people in the ’70s or ’80s, and the house made sense when they had kids, but now it’s just the two of them, and the house is more than they can manage. So it’s been a natural turnover. It hasn’t been the aggressive developer-led turnover.

Mr. and Ms. Campbell lived here. He was the baseball coach in the summer. They were longtime residents. I did get to meet them. They wanted to be here when prospective buyers came through. They moved down to Kentucky to be with one of their sons. They were a little sad to leave, but they understood it was time to move on. People care about the block, people care about their homes. People are out on the stoops talking with each other. It is quite literally the friendliest block I have ever lived on in my entire life.

Roy Campbell Jr., 63Son of Former Owners, Retired IT Professional

Now lives in: Kentucky

Moved from: Grew up on the block

I lived on that block for the first 32 years of my life. When my folks went to run an errand as far away as Broadway, we didn’t even bother to lock the door. Most of our parents worked for the city — my father was a correction officer, a bus driver before that. At one time, all the fathers worked for the Transit Authority. In the ’60s, people became more aware of things going on in the entire world, and the block became more than just the block. The people that did move in later on didn’t set up roots. 

The last time I was living on the block full time was 1986. By the time I left, every façade was like new, the block really picked up. My parents stayed until 2006, they followed me. It upset them to see me go. If it were left up to them, I’d have stayed even if I’d have been married. We were just that close.

At that time, Dad said he was just fed up with New York City. 9/11 was a big turning point in his thinking. He was already retired, he had already sold the business [the laundromat on the corner], so there was nothing keeping him there. I really believe in my heart Pa just came here to die. My mother wasn’t all that excited about relocating down here. She was born and raised in Kentucky, but she was 84 when she left Brooklyn. I always thought, Well, it’s your home, Mom, it’s where you were born. But Kentucky changed a whole lot between the time she left and the present. It was something she had to adapt to, and I don’t think she ever did adapt fully to it.

My brother and I were part of the program where they began busing kids to inner-city neighborhoods. I was 10 years old, my brother was 8, which puts it in 1962. We finished our education outside the neighborhood [in] Flatbush, which was at the time predominantly Jewish. I believe we’re all the better for it. We got a chance to see cultures outside of Bedford-Stuyvesant. All of us are better for having integrated schools. It wasn’t hard — for the life of me, I could never understand the problem people had busing their kids out of the neighborhood. We didn’t even have school buses — we had public transportation. We made friends with our school colleagues. They would invite us to their homes. In fact, my first bowling game was a result of visiting one of my Jewish classmate’s homes. It was an opportunity. We lived a normal working-class life. And a good life. I wouldn’t regret repeating it over and over again.

Violet Russell, 56Current Tenant, Costume Designer

History: Renting since 2007, she pays under $1,200 for a one-bedroom.

I met Connie, walking back and forth. After talking for a while, I told her I’m looking for an apartment. And after a while, she told me about this apartment. I asked her who owned the building. And she said, “He’s a nice man.”

But I said, “Connie, I don’t want to.” ’Cause Scott, my landlord, is white, Jewish. He was probably the second one that moved onto the block. And I just felt like they were moving into our neighborhood to take over. And when they move in, everything goes through the roof.

About a month after, I told her I’m still looking for an apartment. And she said, “I wish you’d take a look at the apartment across the street. Because he’s really a nice guy.”

That day, Scott was coming here from work, and I came up, and I looked, and I loved the space, so I said okay. And Scott has been the greatest landlord. If I have any trouble with anything at all, no problem. He’ll take care of it for me. He doesn’t bother me; I don’t bother him. To me, I’d say a godsend. When I first moved to Bed-Stuy, my rent was $700 a month. I’ve watched rent increase, doubled, tripled—oh my goodness—but now I’m still paying under $1,200, which I have to thank God for. Because the prices for the brownstones are so astronomical. And you just wonder: Are they really worth it?