Many spend their time and efforts wagging a shaggy finger at America’s big cities, bemoaning the crime and predicting economic and moral disaster. Allow me to point in the opposite direction.

The CBS Sunday morning show this morning took time out from their retrospective of Britain’s recently deceased queen to profile a success story in New York city, the Nehemiah Project.

The Nehemiah project is an enterprise that’s been 40 years in the making. The program has been organized as a joint venture between East Brooklyn churches and New York city politicians. They took a destitute neighborhood and built a thriving community, enabling hundreds of first-time homeowners to build equity and wealth.

They have built privately-owned houses sold at working class prices. They built that community on land that nobody wanted.

The project is named for the Old Testament prophet and developer, Nehemiah.

The current developer said, “These were neighborhoods you drove through to go someplace else, not any place you wanted to be.”

Back in the 1980’s, community organizers from local churches formed a foundation that worked with local people to raise money for loans, and mobilized the community to put pressure on local politicians. The mayor at the time, Ed Koch, felt that pressure. He said, “You came to a big open meeting; they would bring in 500 people. They would cheer you. They would boo you. Whatever it is to manipulate you.” Ex-mayor Koch responded, and the pressure paid off. He sold 16 square blocks of New York City property at $1 a lot, and the city provided other subsidies. In 1995 the Republican Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, pledged and delivered support for the project, proving that bi-partisanship is not entirely impossible. Meanwhile, East Brooklyn Churches raised millions toward a fund that helped defray costs.

The first Nehemiah homes cost $40,000 40 years ago. For many homeowners the mortgage payments were actually less than the rent they had been paying.

Soon, those Nehemiah homes became so popular that people had to enter lotteries just for the chance to own one.

In the early 1990s, Sarah Plowden, who worked at St. Paul’s Church, paid $120,000 for a Nehemiah home. It is valued at more than $500,000 today.

According to estimates, the Nehemiah homes have created an estimated $1.5 billion in wealth for first-time homeowners.

There are Nehemiah projects, at various stages of development, around the country, including Chicago. So far, 6,500 homes have been built.

“There was a time when this community was known as the murder capital of the state of New York,” said The Reverend David Brawley, of St. Paul Community Baptist Church in East Brooklyn, but he said, “You can’t be what you can’t see. Nehemiah for us is something for everybody to see. It is possible.”