As part of our celebration of 40 years of service to the community, NHS Brooklyn will share profiles all year of former staff who helped our organization grow and thrive.
Louis Kilkenny headed up NHS Brooklyn as our Executive Director when we were known as NHS of East Flatbush and part of NHSNYC. In this Alumni Spotlight, Mr. Kilkenny shares his experiences and insights on the development and potential of NHS Brooklyn from its earliest days and its growth since.
How did you begin your career at NHS Brooklyn?
I began my career with the organization in the early 1980s, when it was in its infancy. After serving as its first Marketing Coordinator, I held the position of Executive Director of the Brooklyn Office for five years, after which I became the Director of Lending for NHSNYC. I retired in 2015.
What did your role as Executive Director entail?
When I became the Executive Director of the East Flatbush office, we only had a staff of three. At the time, many organizations were focused on the community's deficits. Although every community had deficiencies such as redlining and a lack of affordable homeownership opportunities that needed to be addressed, we decided we could also focus on the strengths of the community and what it does have. As the organization's Executive Director, I expanded our focus to emphasize these community assets. We then used the organization and other community strengths to address our residents’ challenges and improve community life.
What was the community like when you were with the organization?
The community was changing. New residents were mostly people of color and recent immigrants. A substantial influx of individuals from the Caribbean and the surrounding community businesses demonstrated that transformation. For example, Jewish and Italian delis were replaced with Caribbean catering halls and restaurants. Banks, however, refused to make mortgage loans within the area—which was still legal at the time. Although some sections seemed to thrive, but the lack of access to loan products contributed to community disinvestment, decreasing property values, and racially and economically segregated neighborhoods.
What historical and current impact does NHS Brooklyn have on the borough?
As we are aware, through redlining, banks decided which communities were a good investment to issue mortgages to and which neighborhoods might constitute more financial risk for banks. East Flatbush was not deemed a "good investment" and a red line—literally!—was drawn around the community on real estate and bank maps. As a result, East Flatbush and other neighborhoods we served were systematically deprived of resources. NHS Brooklyn fought to change that and protect those residents through engagement and resources. The impact was substantial. Physical changes began to occur, and 40 years later, the community is thriving.
What is your wish for NHS Brooklyn?
I've always viewed the organization as more than a neighborhood organization. As NHS Brooklyn celebrates its 40th year of service to the Brooklyn community, I’m inspired by its innovative and renewed direction. The name change to NHS Brooklyn CDC is one such inspiration, as it speaks to thinking beyond East Flatbush and being prepared to serve the entire borough. I wish them continued success as they expand to other parts of the borough, continuing to be the foremost housing organization that educates the community on all the possibilities of building and maintaining wealth.