Meet the Residents of MacDonough Street

People would knock on her door with suitcases of money.

—Sharon Koontz

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Sharon Koontz, 45Current Owner, IT Program Manager for JetBlue

Lives with: Her husband, Ronn, and their daughter, Mackenzie, age 4

I’d looked for a good two to three years when I met someone who introduced me to Cheslyn. We became friends, and she introduced me to Ms. Rita. Ms. Rita wanted to sell her house to someone who wasn’t going to turn around and resell it, someone who was going to care about it.

Ms. Rita was a lively one. When I met her, she was still very strong-willed, even though she was well in her 80s. She smoked about a pack of cigarettes a day, and she was on oxygen. She refused to stop. She said she was going to die anyway. Cheslyn used to bring food over to her daily. She lived on the top floor and rented out the bottom two floors. It was a rooming house; she’d take one room and subdivide it into three. Tenants shared a bathroom and a kitchen. She required me to come visit her a couple of times, which I did. We would just talk about life. She would tell me that people would knock on her door with suitcases of money. She would tell me, “I really don’t care how much money they have. I want the house to go to someone who I like.” Her only wish was that I help her move back to Barbados, which I did.

When I first moved on the block, a couple of the older ladies would say, “I’m going to teach you how to make a sweet-potato pie!” My mother was American, but her parents were Jamaican, and my father’s Jamaican. Jamaicans don’t make sweet-potato pie. I’d have people over, and we’d have rice and peas, curried goat. Ms. Connie and Ms. Thelma were best friends. Their families were from the South, and they would say, “All this food, but no sweet-potato pie!” They sure did teach me. And I do make it now. Even though they’re not watching anymore.

For a while, my job sent me to Orlando, and Stephanie — that’s Ms. Chavous, across the street — always made sure my house was okay. My next-door neighbor, Dale, he’s since moved, but I always felt safe with him nearby. Cheslyn always made sure that I was safe too. She would call me at work and say, “We haven’t seen you in a week. Is everything okay?”

A lot of people really took the time to help the newer members of the block. Debra Lamb was the one who told me how to switch from oil to gas heat. Lynette explained to me about registering my property with HPD. I have a thing for older people, so to me it was always nice to have elders on the block who really cared about passing the torch. Ms. Connie will still call and check on me to this day. When I was dating, she and Ms. Thelma would weigh in on boyfriends, including my now-husband, Ronn.

The block has changed a lot. Some of the older people, like Ms. Thelma, have passed away. Others are sort of shut in at this point. I try to check in on them to see if they need anything from the supermarket, that kind of thing. The newer people, I would say, haven’t been as welcoming. There’s one family on the block who have kids the same age as my daughter. It’s sort of like you walk down the street like: “Hello, hello, hello …” And they’re still not speaking. So, community-wise, it could use maybe a little bit a push back in that old direction. I think we all agree that a lot of the newer people who come on the block, we just don’t know who they are. Someone mentioned that maybe some of them moved from another neighborhood, where they weren’t welcomed, and so they felt that when they got here.

We actually left the block party early this year. There was really nothing for the kids to do. I’ve been to block parties on this block that have been great. I’ve been on this block when we’ve had jazz bands, bounce houses, community food. The best ones we’ve had were the two years that Mr. Hanna was president of the block association. But unfortunately, it’s been 10 years.

Tax photograph of the Koontzes’ house, circa 1940. Photo: NYC Municipal Archives

The reason that we decided to stay here was because we loved the block. We loved our neighbors. We had a realtor who lived on the block, Miriam. She made a lot of money off the sale of her house. But I don’t think she ever looked at it as: I’m going to make this my home. It was always as an investment. Miriam was a lot of fun, but when she told me she was gonna sell I wasn’t surprised.

But my husband and I agree that real estate is an investment vehicle. We’ve chosen to invest — not in this area right now, because we’ve gotten priced out — but we have a house in Orlando. I would definitely invest in this area, hands down, if we could afford it. But it definitely wouldn’t be a buy and flip for me. It would be buy, invest in the block, in the neighborhood, in the area. It would be a rental that we would then pass on to our daughter.

Ronn Koontz, 50Current Owner, Property Manager

Lives with: His wife, Sharon, and their daughter, Mackenzie, age 4.

I’d been coming back and forth to Bed-Stuy for the last 20 to 25 years. I never thought that Brooklyn, and specifically Bed-Stuy, would become what it has. You don’t even have parking over here. I never would have thought someone would pay $1 million for a brownstone where you don’t even have parking. I don’t get it, but I kind of get it. The taxes are very reasonable here compared to Jersey. And now this area is getting to the point where you don’t even have to go to Manhattan for nightlife, restaurants.

We had a horrible experience with a tenant upstairs. One time we went nine months without rent. We’re doing Airbnb now. It’s nice to have the house, where we can just block out time to have family stay with us. We started it about maybe four, five months ago. It’s constant, just constant. Everybody is just flocking to this area. They’re coming here from all over the world: Spain, Italy, Scotland, Paris. They love it here. Part of it is the immediate neighborhood. We have a fully renovated two-bedroom apartment, sleeps six comfortably. We’ve been booked pretty solid. They are definitely interested in checking out what this Brooklyn thing is all about.

I started seeing changes maybe about six or seven years ago. I know there was a house boarded up a few doors down. A family bought that house for $300,000 or so. They just sold it over a month ago for $1.6 million or so. But we’re not going anywhere. We want to leave something to our daughter.

For the most part, I would say 60 percent of folks that move in are real cool, want to be part of the community. But there are some that won’t even speak. I think there have been some issues. Block parties are a big part of Bed-Stuy. And there was one family that moved in that didn’t understand the whole block-party thing. And they said, if you have the party, I’m gonna call the cops. I mean, that’s part of the community. If you’re gonna come, you should at least understand and try to participate. It was a family on this block that moved in and spent a lot of money. They’ve since resold the property again. There are some cultural things that are here that I guess a lot of people just don’t understand. The brownstone that Rodney and Desmond sold, the new owner came over and introduced himself. That’s unusual among new residents.

The bar on the corner, Casablanca, there’s a crowd there every night. We’re starting to see a lot of folks that I wouldn’t even think they’d hang in Bed-Stuy. That’s a good thing. It’s a nice balance. Before, Casablanca wasn’t really the type of place that you would want to hang out. It was just an old bar, an old ornery lady. She said she would never sell. It just wasn’t my crowd. Now it’s like a hip, fun place. Kind of rustic. I heard maybe a month or two ago that Beyoncé and Jay Z were down there until 2 in the morning.