2200 Block of Almonaster, New Marigny neighborhood
FOR THE RECORD:
In a previous version of this story, Leslie Couvillion's name was misspelled as Courillion. It is corrected here.
It's not a pretty picture. There are nine craftsman bungalows in front of her, in various states of disrepair. Only two appear to be under repair. A peach-colored house on the corner still bears a grim message from the rescuers of 2005: "1 Dead."
Couvillion works for Coastal Environments Inc., a Baton Rouge company that the city hired to survey nine historic residential neighborhoods in New Orleans. They are photographing thousands of houses, plotting their GPS coordinates, taking down architectural data and the amount of damage. All of the information will go into a huge, publicly accessible database, ostensibly so the city may know what it has and what it is about to lose, as demolitions proceed apace.
It might be a good idea, but Couvillion said she's encountered a lot of anger from residents who want to know why the project -- which is administered by the city, but funded by the federal government -- is going on when so much federal rebuilding money is bottled up.
"I had this one guy following me around for, like, three days, bitching," she said.
Couvillion said they are finding that a number of houses that the city has "red tagged" -- that is, slated for demolition -- are actually being lived in, or being restored. Part of the problem, she says, is that owners of rental property are spread all over the country, which creates a disconnect among government, renters and owners.
Still, she says that the ruined houses that remain standing -- the ones that really need to be torn down -- can be an impediment to recovery. In Mississippi, she noted, the storm surge from the gulf knocked houses to their slabs. Here, owners must gut their houses and face difficult choices about rebuilding, or find a demolition company, or something.
"I hope that when they do start bulldozing, then people will come back to rebuild," she says, staring across Almonaster, a broad major traffic artery almost totally dead to cars on a Monday morning. "Right now," she adds, "parts of town like this are like a rotting, dead stop."
Mazant and Law streets, Upper Ninth Ward
This pocket of the Upper Ninth Ward was African-American once. Now this block is hard to classify: there's almost nobody home. The Florida housing projects loom in the background, all boarded up: a sign from the Housing Authority gives a number to call if anyone wants to claim their abandoned belongings.