Wilmington Helps Build Musicians Village

Wilmington, NC – The idea is this: instead of trying to attract skilled labor to New Orleans, the city is outsourcing some of the rebuilding.

For our poor, flooded and damaged city it's just fantastic to have all of these generous folks in Wilmington. And I get to go back to New Orleans and say there are a bunch of folks in North Carolina who care about us.

Jim Pate is Director for the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity. He came to Wilmington back in July to oversee dozens of volunteers as they framed out a home in the Texas Roadhouse restaurant parking lot.

By ten o'clock that morning temperatures reached nearly 90, storm clouds started moving in from the east, and pretty much everyone that morning was swinging a hammer, including volunteer Bob Duff.

Well we're not exactly skilled, but we do a lot of nail banging and nail pulling out occasionally to bang them back in, it's good, it's therapy.

A month before Wilmington's crew framed out their house, Jim Pate was back in New Orleans's Upper 9th Ward supervising volunteers paint and frame some of the first homes being built in New Orleans.

The project sits on a piece of New Orleans spared from the heavy flooding that devastated the lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard's Parrish.

This place here at the corner of North Roman and Alvar has been called the most hopeful place in New Orleans; it's the only place where new construction of homes for New Orleans families is taking place. And when it's humming and throbbing with hundreds of volunteers out here, it's just a fantastic thing.

The new neighborhood is called Musicians Village. Jazz musicians Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr. dreamed up the idea for Musician's Village as a way to keep otherwise homeless performers from leaving the city.

The disaster is unprecedented in its scope and nature, this Habitat effort is unprecedented in its scope and nature.

Pate says there's a waiting list for the 75 homes that come with a $500 monthly mortgage payment, half of what many places are renting for in a post-Katrina New Orleans.

Despite the deals though, Pate says it's tough recruiting musicians. Multiple news stories have chronicled the problems musicians face establishing credit for what's essentially a cash and carry lifestyle in a town that has lost many of its music venues.

Pate says this is where Habitat finds creative ways to meet the challenge.

We had one chap who came in and he had a spiral notebook like we all had in high school and it had every gig he had played in the last three years and we used that as proof of income.

We're putting Tybeck on the wall which I guess provides waterproofing and insulation, and this is the first time we've ever done this, I've never done this in my life, and so we're sort of playing this by ear, trying to figure this out.

That's Connecticut resident Paul Shifle who came with a group of co-workers from the financial group Credit Suisse.

You know we're just trying to make an effort and give a little bit back to New Orleans. We're all from the greater New York area although we have some people as far away as Sao Paolo, Brazil who are here doing it to. And we're just trying to make a difference really in a small way.

Just down the street, Mildred Nash walks her dog around the neighborhood. A resident of the upper 9th ward, Nash has no worries about the empty homes all around her.

You know people are going to come back, things are going to be fine. We are a diverse group of people here, but we are always manage to come together, the melting pot, the gumbo, that's what we are.

Nash says much of the gumbo that's the Upper 9th Ward is made up of elderly residents who don't have the energy to rebuild. And she's conflicted about whether her neighborhood will keep its look and feel.

No, I don't think it's going to change much, but then a lot of people are going to want to live here, so it probably will change. What it will do is bring in new ideas, new people. But it looks good.

It don't really seem like a good idea to me.

That's Gloria Hardin who also lives in the neighborhood. Harden grew up here, she says the way Musicians Village is designed as its own community makes integration into rest of the upper 9th ward difficult.

For one the houses are too close it's like another little community. It's not really a part of the neighborhood, and I don't know, people need a place to live so we'll see what happens.

Back at Musicans Village, Pate says it has been a challenge to find housing for the nearly 7,000 volunteers who have come to help build - not to mention regular power failures and just the day in and day out of living in a city littered with debris. But all of that is more bearable Pate says thanks to the psychological lift volunteers bring with them.

We need to know that people are not forgetting us, we need to know that people are supporting us as we try to rebuild what I consider is the most beautiful, and wonderful city in the country.

Wilmington's own Habitat House in Musicians Village will stand beside homes built in other cities across the country.