Tuesday, March 21, 2006

My House is Fixed!

When we moved to New Orleans from Brooklyn, my partner and I decided that we would never leave. We were married in a beautiful Treme house garden a year later. Shortly thereafter, we began to look into buying a home. Having been obsessed with houses since I can remember (I was going to be an architect from the age of ? on and would draw up house plans in my spare time -which I still do), I fell in love with the architecture of New Orleans and would drive around every neighborhood in the city, staring at derelict homes waiting to be rescued and dreaming the potential.
My husband was hesitant, to say the least. He was looking for more of a small-job-fixer-upper. So when I came to him with this house, he was, well, not enthused:

Picture by Felicity Street Redevelopment

There was a large hole in it, there was no bottom floor (just dirt and sills), no plumbing, no electricity...on the bright side, some walls were framed up upstairs. Despite all this, I managed to convince him of my vision and we set to work on the huge project. It's amazing how many decisions have to be made, from what kind of door knobs to use to where to place every light fixture. We had to go to Baton Rouge to find doors that fit the proportions of the house, etc. The worst was when we had to move in before there was electricity and water and the dogs were constantly grayed by sheetrock dust, which was everywhere. But that time soon passed.

In the end, we had a beautiful home that matched our needs perfectly. The only way we could have ever lived in such a beautiful house was to resurrect one from the near dead:

Picture by Felicity Street Redevelopment

We are situated on the alluvial plane, as I insisted that we buy a house ten feet above sea level. Having just read Rising Tide, I wasn't feeling trust. Unfortunately, the winds ripped our roof right off and all the ceilings caved in. The entire uptown side of the house had to be gutted due to water damage. The good news is that my studio was the only room that did not cave in...all my artwork, the bass and the amp that my friend had moved into the room (out of his house in the Bywater) for protection survived untouched.

We knew early on that the roof had peeled off due to the satellite images that we could access via internet from an Oxford, MS cafe. Billy and a friend, Wallace, snuck back into the city immediately in order to secure our houses from further water damage (luckily for the city of New Orleans -not so for other states, there was a drought during many of the evacuation months, thereby saving many houses from even further water damage). He wrote a story about it for a periodical. Read it here: Carondelet Street or Bust.

Well, it has been over six months, and we finally have our house back and in full working order, so we have something to celebrate! The last hole in the ceiling was fixed last week and the last coat of paint went on Friday.

We are very lucky. Even though it was like going back to square one, renovating the house, living in it unfinished, it was nothing compared to what Slimbo and his family are going through, who received three feet of water and whose home is in the proposed green space for New Orleans. Nagin said yesterday, "rebuild at your own risk"* to those in New Orleans East and The Lower Ninth Ward. It's been half a year and we still have to sit with our hands tied while leaders running for re-election cover their bottoms. Thank you, thank you. Feeling bitter for my neighbors.

Further, and my last harp, here on the alluvial plane, there are falling down, gorgeous houses and empty lots galore. A block away, two days ago, a house just crumbled in on itself. This leads me to my new series for the week: Houses that could've been (fallen since the storm), lots that stand empty and houses that are in danger of falling any second as people are scratching their heads wondering where to put people in the "new footprint".

The first in the series:

It was a beautiful two story blue house before the storm. Could have housed at least two families.

* "But even as refused to deny any neighborhood the right to rebuild, Nagin warned residents of the Lower 9th Ward and "the lowest-lying areas of New Orleans East" that the Army Corps of Engineers has told him those areas are likely to flood once again if a Katrina-style hurricane hits New Orleans this year or in 2007." -www.nola.com

* part 2, from CNN
Earlier in the day, he told "The Times-Picayune," that he wasn't going to sugarcoat it. He warned that residents should are have no illusions. Struggling neighborhoods should not expect police patrols, functioning sewers, or even weekly garbage collection.

CNN's Susan Roesgen was there tonight. She's watching the developing story.

Susan, "The Times-Picayune" headline today was, "Rebuild but at Your Own Risk." Was that the mayor's message as well tonight?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson, the message still was rebuild at your own risk, but he didn't talk about some of the other things that the paper had said he was going to talk about tonight.

In fact, he presented a really rosy view of the future of the city of New Orleans -- a smarter, safer, stronger city. This new blueprint, he says, calls for residents to be able to rebuild wherever they want, but the plan comes with a warning.


RAY NAGIN, MAYOR, NEW ORLEANS: The Army Corps of Engineers has warned me that some of our most -- our lowest-lying areas of New Orleans East and in the lower Ninth Ward, will have some flooding from levees overtopping if another hurricane travels along the same path as Katrina. Even with the restoration of higher, better fortified levees.