'Rehab Addict' Star Nicole Curtis Talks Rebuilding Post-Hurricane Sandy Communities [Interview]

Jon Fisher

Nicole Curtis, the host of Rehab Addict and a home improvement expert, works on houses on television. However, while she's not doing that, Curtis works behind the scenes in the community. Most recently, Nicole Curtis is helping rebuild a community in Staten Island that was hit by Hurricane Sandy.

I recently spoke with Curtis about why she's so passionate about her job, the types of tools and labor needed to make inexpensive household repairs and rebuilding communities.

Jon Fisher: What's it like working on a show called Rehab Addict?

Nicole Curtis: "The first year we kicked off 'Rehab Addict,' I had to explain to everyone that it wasn't about me being a drug addict and that I wasn't in rehab. After I got past that, I had to explain that it wasn't 'Add-ick.' It was 'Add-ict.' It's come a long way.

"We're going into our eighth season, so it gets a little easier. Now, we have such a following. Somebody said the other day, 'Nicole, you've developed this cult.' I said, 'I know I have.' I've always been very passionate about everything historic and everything Americana.

"Nothing is more Americana than our neighborhoods and keeping those together. People see that. They know that's what I do in real life. I'm the executive producer of the show and the projects are all mine. They're all houses that I found.

"Really, how I got started doing this is that I found out cities across the country were demolishing old houses because nobody wanted them. When I got into real estate, I had absolutely zero dollars to invest. I said, 'Well, will you give me the houses? If you're going to demo them anyways, it'd cost $20,000 to the taxpayers to demo these houses, why not give them to investors like me who'll take them, rebuild them and live in them?'

"It seems like a very easy concept, but even to this day, I still have to twist arms of mayors and council members. This is a good idea. You're keeping a building standing and you're revitalizing your neighborhoods and it's not costing you a dime. That's kind of how it got going.

"Then we joined up with HGTV. It's the Wild West with me. I tell it like it is. I show what really goes on. You cannot remodel a kitchen in 22 minutes and make it look perfect. I think that's why people enjoy it. At least the feedback I get is that they see me make mistakes, see me almost burn down my house at one point and flood houses.

"That's what's fun about it. You learn as you go."

Nicole Curtis: "I always tell people, this doesn't turn off when I leave a project site. I am someone who doesn't sleep much. My friends and family will tell anyone that this is what I do around the clock. I'm on the phone at 11 o'clock because people are telling me that something has hit our community, wondering what they can do about it.

"I always say that I'm half-marketing genius and half-person that does what she can with old homes. The biggest thing to do is for people to figure out a way to get funds to their community. Every dollar counts and that's what I try to show on my show. You don't have to have $1-million to build something. Bernzomatic came to me and said, 'We have this idea. What we were to give communities grants to do what they need to do to make repairs and to rebuild?' I said, 'Oh my gosh. This is absolutely fabulous.'

"One of the issues we have across the country is that we're running out of money for things that we need. We need more parks and community art programs. We need all these things because otherwise, our kids have nothing to do. People in our city have no outlet and for me, knowing that individuals like me in communities that want to do this, but have no money can pitch it.

"Basically, they're pitching to us saying, 'This is our project. Give us $10,000.' I'm excited. I can't wait to see this. '#FindYourFire.' All they have to do is go to findyourfire.com/grants and submit a photo. They simply put a photo up there with a description and they tell everyone to vote for them.

"America gets to choose the winners. Really, it's all about having a big mouth and telling people that they want to get this grant."

Rehab Addict Jon Fisher: What are the types of tools and labor that are needed to make inexpensive repairs? More specifically for this project in general, what would you need?

Nicole Curtis: "If you've never done a home improvement project, people always assume that it takes a lot of money and you have to have a truck that pulls up with all these fancy tools. I use the Bernzomatic torches. I've used them forever. They're a true form of Americana. They've been around since 1876.

"A small torch in your toolbox goes a long way. I've done so much plumbing in my way, removed flooring and all that. Even now, I do huge projects. Right now, I'm doing a 7,000-square foot mansion, built in 1876 that had been left for demolition for 40 years.

"I still have four things; a hammer, a claw, a drill and my torch. With simple things, you can get a lot done. What's so important right now is that with these grants, it's really getting the hands to do the work. We're just trying to get the money into the hands for these communities.

Jon Fisher: In one phrase, how can you describe the "Do It Yourself" attitude?

Nicole Curtis: "Mistakes are knowledge waiting to happen."

[Images via berzonmatic and youtube.com]