Red Hook WIFI Business Profile: Red Hook Native and Self-made Real Estate Owner, Humberto Lopes

In 2014, RHI’s Red Hook WIFI was among 11 innovative technologies selected by the New York City Economic Development Corporation’s RISE program to expand Red Hook WIFI to include local small businesses impacted by Superstorm Sandy. Business owner and longtime resident Humberto Lopes is excited about the expansion and is set to receive a solar-backed WIFI hotspot at one of his properties. As a lifelong resident of Red Hook, Mr. Humberto Lopes’ first job was delivering groceries to all parts of the neighborhood. While not his focus at the time, young Mr. Lopes’ first job was actually his entry into the real estate industry. We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Lopes about his Red Hook roots.

How long have you been in Red Hook? Did you grow up here?
“For 54 years I have called Brooklyn home.” Born to Puerto Rican and Portuguese parents Humberto is all Red Hook. “I attended P.S. 29, I.S. 293 and John Jay High School.”

What is it that you love about the neighborhood?
“Being born and raised here I saw a lot of different examples of beauty in the neighborhood. I always valued the diversity of the residents who live here. Even with the challenges we all faced during the crack era in the 1980’s I still saw the neighborhood’s beauty and the potential.”

How did you get into property management?
“My first property was 57-59 Wolcott Street. It was a construction company called H.L. General Contractors. I had to wait until I was 18 to legally incorporate my business, but mind you, I have been working in construction since age 12 as a handyman. My first truck was purchased at an auction. It had the words HUM and Roofing on the side. I felt like it was a sign. People started to notice my truck and asked if I did roofing. I said of course and just like that, I had a major roofing job that I completed in 3 days with just one other person. I earned $1,800. Today a job of that size today costs several thousand dollars.”

Talk a little bit more about the 1980s. How were you able to grow your business?
“I stayed when many people left. I knew it was important to help rebuild and redevelop my community. I stand here today as the second largest property owner in Red Hook.”

Through your continued support of RHI, it’s clear that you are committed to Red Hook and its well being. In what other ways do you give back to the community and its residents?
“In total, I’ve brought approximately 75 small businesses into the neighborhood. These businesses bring revenue, jobs, and needed products/services to the community.
I purchased buildings all throughout Red Hook and offered affordable rent to those who otherwise would have not been able to find a stable place to live or to operate their business. I’m also responsible for bringing the first private school (BASIS Independent Brooklyn) and a number of artists to Red Hook. As someone who grew up in the neighborhood, it’s important to me that I continue to make a positive impact on the neighborhood.”

Thank you for your support of the Red Hook WIFI network and for allowing us to install on your rooftops. What does this network mean to you?
“All my projects have a community benefit. Opening my doors to RHI, and other local businesses are examples of my commitment to the entire community. It’s not about me helping me. It’s about how does this (business, non-profit, etc.) help my community? By creating opportunities for organizations like RHI, I visually began to see how many more people I was able to help with the resources I could provide.”

Introducing Red Hook Farms

Brooklyn’s largest urban farm, located in Red Hook, Brooklyn, is now a project of Red Hook Initiative. For the last sixteen years, Added Value has operated two farms in Red Hook, grown hundreds of tons of organic produce and provided a homegrown classroom to educate thousands of youth. Red Hook Farms is vital to our bounty of community resources.

Why is RHI expanding to include urban farming? RHI is bringing farming into our portfolio to hone a model for urban gardening, youth empowerment and sustainable, community-led food production. 

Moving forward as Red Hook Farms, we will:

  • Offer meaningful jobs for Red Hook youth;
  • Create leadership and educational opportunities;
  • Provide a safe space to gather, learn, and grow; and
  • Increase access to locally grown organic produce.

Homegrown Resilience

Sunday marks the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. Red Hook residents lived with no heat, power or running water for weeks in the storm’s aftermath. In response to the devastation, Red Hook Initiative (RHI) opened its doors 14 hours a day for 24 consecutive days. Community members walked across the street to RHI and transformed from storm victims to storm responders. They were first on the scene and knew what their neighbors needed better than anyone.

Five years later, Red Hook is a stronger and more resilient community. Using the lessons learned in Hurricane Sandy’s wake, RHI launched Local Leaders, a training program designed for public housing residents to learn about emergency preparedness and community organizing. The program, facilitated by Local Leader graduates in English and Spanish, has trained over 200 Red Hook public housing residents. In the last five years, Local Leaders have highlighted the impact of mold in public housing, fought proposed budget cuts to NYCHA, and advocated for Red Hook at the community and city-wide levels.

“We’re ready if there’s another hurricane. This program has united the community and made us more aware of what to do to help ourselves, our families and our neighbors,” says Yolanda Diaz, a Local Leader and Red Hook resident. Today, we are proud to introduce you to the heroic residents preparing for future challenges.