Monday, March 19, 2007

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

So much has been happening since my last post. I've been quite busy and too tired by the end of the day to post updates. But right now, my beautiful daughter is taking a much-needed nap, so I'm taking advantage of the free time. I'll try to consolidate as best I can.

Let's start off with The Good news. A couple weeks ago, my aunt informed me that a friend of hers was looking for a housesitter. So I called, we talked, and it looks like I'll be making a little extra money housesitting for 10 days starting this Sunday. Extra money is always good, but that's not THE good news. The good news is that the owner of the (hurricane-damaged) house, Maela, is doing all the repairs HERSELF. AND is open to having me come and help her so that I can learn a thing or two. I went to help one day last week. I removed nails from the wooden stairs; and though it wasn't a major job like putting up a wall or plumbing, it was something I'd never done and now I know what tools I need and how to do it. Skills!! She also showed me how to use the table saw. Skills!! I'm so excited. I'm gonna learn how to make and fix stuff. No more "damsel in distress" every time something breaks.

More Good news - My sister came down from North Carolina this past week to visit. We started cleaning out my mom's house. This is awesome because I haven't physically done anything on her (or my) house since I got here. So that's a start. We cleaned the kitchen together. This was no small task. The kitchen had not been touched since August 29, 2005 (Hurricane Katrina's arrival). There was a layer of dust (containing who knows what... probably mold particles) over everything. Black and brown water stains on the floor. And debris from the small construction projects she had done recently. We cleaned it all up. Shiny and new. My sis and her friend, Shakana, cleaned the bathroom the next day. Then I swept up all the fallen paint chips and other debris in two of the bedrooms. The next step will be pulling up that nasty carpet. Hurricane-damage aside (it didn't get any water-damage anyway), that carpet is 13 years old and needs to be thrown out. So we'll be either installing new carpet or installing ceramic tile. By ourselves. I'll keep you posted.

And now The Bad news - I mentioned in an earlier post that the front door had been stolen off my house. I'd left it unsecured after the Search-and-Rescue teams busted the door in post-Katrina. The house was empty and my air conditioners had already been stolen... so I didn't think there was anything else to take. Last year, they took my front door. Ha ha ha. Architectural theft is rampant down here now. On a block like mine, which has been completely abandoned (save my next door neighbor Eddie who is also a landlord, and periodically comes by to work on his house), it's pretty easy to steal architectural details off people's houses. No one's there to watch. Apparently, people are doing this in broad daylight. And these are not just your every day crackheads looking for something to sell either. Contractors, people posing as contractors, and people posing as Preservation Resource Center officials are doing it too. Well-orchestrated thievery. My door was not hurriedly ripped off the frame. It was carefully unscrewed from the hinges (there's no damage to the frame or hinges at all). As I've been looking around for replacements, I'm discovering that my door was quite unique. I haven't found anything like it yet. Guess that's why they helped themselves to it. Anyway, about a week ago, my neighbor Eddie informed me that someone stole the copper pipes from underneath his house... and that mine were gone too. So my pipes are gone, conveniently replaced by my suspicion about my neighbor's hand in it. Sucks. Not only is copper expensive these days, but I also have the added expense of fencing off the crawlspace underneath my house so that this doesn't happen again. I've heard they're stealing electric wires now for the copper inside. I just had the place re-wired (Well, almost... that is another bit of bad news. But I won't get into it. Let's just say that the electricians down here are running a racket and they finish whenever they feel like it), so I have to do that soon.

Now for The Ugly. It is literally ugly. I wish I'd taken a photo, but I didn't think of it at the time. I recently discovered mold growth BEHIND my walls. Pre-Katrina, I thought that my walls were plaster. The fact that there was no visible mold growth after the hurricane validated this theory for me. However, as my mother and I were assessing the damage in my house last week, we noticed a crack in the wall under a window. A small piece of the wall was loose and when I pulled it back, I saw it plain as day - mold. The mold and I greeted each other, as dignified enemies do when waging war. Its days are numbered. So, this is ugly for me because the silver lining on my dark hurricane cloud had been "at least I didn't get any mold." I was one of the lucky ones. Now I have to gut the house (at least four feet from the floor) to get rid of the mold. For those unfamiliar with the term "gut" in relation to construction (or de-construction), basically I have to remove all the sheetrock and whatever is behind it down to the framing of the house. It's not as fun as it sounds. But I can (and will) do it. Maela offered to help when she gets back from her vacation. So, I'm grateful that The Bad and The Ugly come with The Good, otherwise I might regret the day I set foot back on the soil of this charming (and charmed) city.

That's all for now, guys. Sorry no pics, Gary. I had "before-and-after" shots of my mom's kitchen, but it's not much of a visible difference so I decided not to post them. I guess you'll just have to READ. Better to do that sober.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Road Home Says No

Yesterday, I attended an application workshop for the Road Home Small Rental Properties Program in hopes that I might get some state money to assist in fixing up my house. The program awards forgivable loans to owners of 1-4 unit properties in hurricane-damaged areas, provided they rent their units for affordable prices. Deal. I wasn't going to charge a lot anyway. There are LOTS of landlords in New Orleans now who are taking advantage of the housing shortage by hiking up rent. I don't need to do that.

Anyway, I figured that, unlike the Historic Grant, I might actually have a good chance of getting this money. My house is one unit and it is definitely in a hurricane damaged area. It's also in a historic district that has been on the city's "revitalization" list for a while. I figured there was no reason I SHOULDN'T get this money. The State of Louisiana disagreed, however. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the first two lines on the second page of the application -

If the answer to the following question is NO, you are not eligible for the Small Rental Property Program:

Were you a Louisiana resident at the date of Hurricane Katrina or Rita?


Can I get ANY assistance? I couldn't get any FEMA money because the property wasn't my primary residence and no one was living there at the time of the storm. I couldn't get any insurance money for flood damage because I did not have flood insurance. I didn't get flood insurance because it NEVER floods in that area. That neighborhood didn't even flood when Hurricane Betsy (the worst hurricane to hit New Orleans before Katrina) hit in 1965. A month after I bought the property, the entire city flooded, however. I'm not eligible for any Road Home Homeowner's money because it wasn't my primary residence. And now I'm not eligible for the Small Rental Property money because I wasn't a resident at the time of the storm. Will they consider the fact that I was born and raised here... and that I quit my job and moved down here in order to work on my house? Can I get SOMETHING?

Anyway, I put my emotions aside and did not let this painful news get me down. There were advisors at the application workshop whose job it was to answer any questions we might have. I waited in line to speak to one of these fine people. I asked my question and was surprised that even she seemed puzzled. She explained to me that the rules for these programs are changing constantly and that the rule-makers may not have considered applicants in my position. She advised me to apply anyway and talk to my local representative. More work. But is that not what I am here to do? Yes, it is. So I'm up for it. I will speak to local representative. I hope that these rules change.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Beauty Amidst The Destruction

Yesterday, my father and I went looking for a comrade of his in Hollygrove, a neighborhood in Uptown New Orleans. (He hadn't seen her since the storm, but heard that she was back in New Orleans.) Half the residents in trailers, half in damaged homes. Abandoned houses, abandoned cars. No one using the sidewalks, since they were covered in debris or standing water. People out on the street, walking, fixing cars, sitting on their porches, talking with neighbors. People making due. Still living. This is what people do.

Amidst all of this, I found this thing of beauty. A rusted shell of a car propped on its side on the side of the road.

Thursday, March 1, 2007


Wow. I just moved to New Orleans. I’m not sure how I feel just yet… and people keep asking me. Really, it feels like I’m just visiting. Ask me in a month.

We missed yesterday’s flight and ended up flying down early this morning. I was so exhausted, I wanted to cry. Once we got to our new home (aka my Mom's apartment in Treme), I SLEPT… for like 5 hours. The good thing about moving in with your mother is that she WANTS to hang out with your child. And, thus, you get to sleep. (Thanks, Ma. I needed that.)

I think I am happy to be here though. I’m anxious to start working. No, I’m not getting a job. I mean REALLY working. Taking my future into my own hands and making things happen. I started a TO DO list today. So beginning Monday, I’ll be visiting places like Preservation Resource Center, Global Green, and Common Ground. I know I need LOTS of help restoring my house, so I want to explore these potential resources immediately. My mom is thrilled that I’m here… happy for my energy and drive. I’ll be helping her with her house too.

Well, I just wanted to post a short update. I’m still tired. That’s my punishment for having so much STUFF to move. Even though I’ve gotten rid of A LOT of my belongings over the past year, somehow I still have too much. And packing it all just wore me out. So I’m headed to bed. Goodnight.