March, 2008
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

New Orleans: A Volunteer's Perspective


Here on the 12th floor of the Hilton while attending InspectionWorld, there’s a picturesque view from my window: the Mississippi with the train, the bridge and the various barges and boats that go up and down the river. But a small group of us know a different city, thanks to the efforts of Ray and Rose Hogan, who organized a pre-conference volunteer project that allowed us to experience and accomplish things that we could not have anticipated or imagined.

Having seen all the earlier television and news reports, we were acutely reminded of the widespread destruction and devastation that was still evident as we traveled around the city and the areas east along the coast.

One of the ASHI crews at 1931 France St. in the 9th Ward of New Orleans. Top row: Sam  Deabenderfer, Jay DeWolf and Kevin Burnette. Middle row: Goef Greer and Nancy Kasznay. Bottom row: Jim Burnette, Ray Hogan and Rose Hogan.

Restored homes amidst the rubble

Each day we continued to be amazed at the gaps in siding and roofs, some with tarps and some (roofs) not so fortunate, the total disrepair of buildings, the rubble of gutting and cleaning out buildings, the emptiness of the high-rise buildings, the massive vegetation growing on entire rooftops, and the still-bent and unreadable street signs. Especially poignant was the mixture of restored homes amidst rubble, abandoned homes and homes with trailers in the yard for living while renovating.

Two work sites

We were reminded of the poverty of the city as we drove by the homeless community of “tent people” under the Route 10 Bridge on our way to the job sites. We worked in Musicians Village in the 9th Ward for two days at 1931 France St. and 1936 Bartholomew St. and for a day at 2329 Delta Queen Drive in Violet, La., in St. Bernard Parish.

Two different worlds

It is like two different worlds in one city. The French Quarter is yet another world, with its mix of Bourbon Street and nearby antique and art shops and restaurants. One can easily forget the people who are still trying to rebuild their lives here more than two years after Katrina and the ensuing flooding.

Habitat puts ASHI group to work

Our ASHI group worked for Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization that is now in the process of building 200 new homes in New Orleans. The site and building supervisors are hired by Habitat from the federal organization AmeriCorps. The AmeriCorps supervisors organize materials and tools, provide on-the-job supervision and make sure the volunteers have a productive experience. Last year, there were over 50,000 volunteers who worked with Habitat here in New Orleans. Incidentally, the AmeriCorps supervisors make a year-long commitment and earn $36/day including medical coverage.

Goef Greer and Tore Knos working on the roof at 1931 France St. in Musicians Village.

Putting the music back

Habitat is currently the largest builder in Louisiana by a factor of 10. A major project is in the 9th Ward at Musicians Village. This is an area that previously had a school, which was destroyed by flooding during Katrina. This area was covered by anywhere from 6 to 30 feet of water.

New Habitat homes in progress near the Habitat office in Musicians Village.

Habitat purchased the property and is building new homes here amidst existing homes in varying condition. Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis were instrumental in this effort, primarily to help musicians rebuild homes, thus the name Musicians Village. The Village is more than 60 percent complete.

One of the homeowner-renovated homes in the Musicians Village neighborhood.

New home for $75,000 plus labor

These new homes in Musicians Village cost homeowners $75,000, which includes the cost of the land and building materials. A down payment of 350 hours of labor is required. To qualify, a home-owner must be able to pay the $600 mortgage payment, $200 for principal, and $400 for insurance, including flood insurance, for 30 years interest free. This is less than a one-bedroom rental in the city. The community to date is approximately 75 percent musicians, though being a musician is not one of the qualifications. One of my greatest pleasures while volunteering was to meet Sharif, a homeowner and musician who was working in one of the houses with us doing his last 100 hours to meet his down payment. He said you never know who is volunteering, and it is rewarding to experience the connections made with people who are helping the village come alive, and who are touched by the community. He is a warm, creative man, who is one of the success stories here.

Hanging drywall in St. Bernard Parish

St. Bernard Parish, which is about 16 miles east along the coast, has more upscale housing, but was also devastated by water. At 2329 Delta Queen Drive in Violet, La., and in the immediate neighborhood, 8 feet of water came from Lake Borne about five miles away, not from the levee that was easily in sight of the home, flooding the houses up to the ceiling. Mike, the home-owner, and his brother had gutted the house back to the studs. Mike had hired an electrician and a plumber. The wiring had been redone, while the plumbing was a mix of original 1986 plumbing and new plumbing. Our group worked for a full day sheet rocking the one-story, brick home.

At this house, doors, drywall and tools were provided by Habitat. Mike had applied for assistance to rebuild, but was not required to provide labor. As one of our group noted, his was the only lawn in the neighborhood that was mowed.

Houses in this neighborhood, as was the case in the Musicians Village neighborhood, were in varying states of abandonment or repair. Rubble on the streets is not uncommon, either from gutting homes or from building materials. Many houses have trailers in the driveways where people live while renovating their homes. We did see some small PODS that contained salvaged household goods or building materials. Restored houses were scattered throughout.

Work and learn

The sense of community is evident at Habitat and in New Orleans. One might feel important for volunteering until you look around and realize the magnitude of people involved in some kind of volunteer effort. Volunteers have come from all areas of our great country and from many other countries as well. In addition to a feeling of accomplishment, there is a rewarding exchange of ideas and cultures within the Habitat community. On site, you don’t know immediately where the other people are from, if they are homeowners, live in the city or are volunteers like yourself.

ASHI Canada represented

There was also a small ASHI group from Canada, led by Laurel Harris that worked for another volunteer agency, Rebuilding Together in New Orleans. Additional ASHI members were scheduled to join us on our fourth day, but unfortunately we were rained out. You can be proud of the efforts that were made here by our ASHI volunteers.

The following all actually made it to our sites:

– Ray and Rose Hogan and Goef Greer from Illinois,
– Tore Knos from Georgia,
– Jay DeWolf and Sam Deabenderfer from California,
– Jim Hemsell from Texas,
– Kevin Burnette from New Jersey,
– Jim Burnett from Wisconsin, and
– Nancy Kasznay from Connecticut.