This is long. Take a breath.
Time to beat this dead horse again.
Here are my only 2 points:
1) I have a problem with Habitat calling this a musicians' village, when that's just an inaccurate name used to get contributions. People think that they are donating so that their money will be targeted to give housing to those who create New Orleans music. The musicians' village gives no preference to musicians, as dictated by Habitat for Humanity's guidelines. I have no problem with Habitat's guidelines. I have a problem with Habitat calling this a musicians' village, when that's just an inaccurate name used to get contributions.
2) We need a place, if not the musicians village, where those who perform New Orleans music can live.
To up their musician/non-musician ratio, Habitat has taken to redefining the term musician. According to New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity spokeswoman Aleis Tusa " If I play the flute at home, but I do PR for my job, I can call myself a musician".
This bad press has put Habitat on the defensive.
And it should. They are misleading the public.
So what should be done? Should some big donor have to sue Habitat to ensure that their donations are being used for what they were led to believe they were being used for?
I just want to get housing for New Orleans musicians, so they can stay here, come back, or not leave.
Here's a comment from Andy Lee, a Habitat board member, that was left on Adrastos blog:
I read Ashley's comment above and feel the need to respond. The article that Ashley was relying on (published in Offbeat in July 2006) was written by a reporter who subsequently ported her views over to the Times-Pic -- in an article appeared on Jan. 2. I subsequently had an Op-Ed piece printed a few days later. It is here: http://www.nola.c om/news/t-p/otheropinions/index.ssf?/base/news-0/1167979770225830.xml&coll= 1
That reporter doesn't "get" Habitat, and I've told her so. Musicians or not, Habitat is NOT a giveaway program where house keys are given away Oprah-style. No, it is a home-ownership program based on the Habitat mission, which is: "To build houses in partnership with sponsors, volunteers, communities, and homeowner families, whereby families are empowered to transform their own lives." EMPOWERED to transform THEIR OWN LIVES. It's not very empowering to give keys away, now, is it?
Note well, many accommodations have been made, for instance: 1) income verification has been very flexible (find any homestead willing to lend money on a house with proof of income consisting of "gig books" and I'll buy you a Barq's and a shrimp po-boy, but Habitat does this); 2) resources have been set up to assist applicants in finding credit relief or working thru any problems -- I have personally counselled several musicians in this, and those that want to fix their credit, do so, and are glad they did. Even after credit woes are solved, home-ownership isn't guaranteed. It's a process, that some describe as arduous, others as easy compared to living in public housing, or in a car, or in Houston.
Musicians with poor credit are being directed to resources to fix their credit before they move further along in the process because the Habitat process is meaningful. That's the "Habitat model" that no new program is going to change. Giving away $$$ to pay off bad debts does not, in my mind, "empower" a family. We partner with them, and 160 NOLA families and first-time homeowners can all give testimony that it works. (Dealing with bad credit is nothing new for Habitat; credit issuers tend to prey on the lowest wage-earners -- our constituency.)
Habitat isn't for everyone, and it isn't for every musician. Habitat hasn't claimed to, and will not, solve the entire housing problem in NOLA. Musicians are no different from many applicants -- some have serious credit problems that would plunge them into foreclosure on the house in a matter a months after the euphoria wears off, and then where would they, and we donors / volunteers, be? Would we look back and say, sure wish we'd worked on those credit problems BEFORE they bought the house???
Wikipedia has pretty accurate figures on our "musician ratio" in its M.V. entry. There are MANY musicians in the M.V. to date, and it's not yet halfway there. Give it a chance -- you'll be VERY, VERY pleasantly surprised that it fulfills its promise. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musicians_Village
I realize that bloggers are known to tabloidize, but calling Habitat complicit in murder by not approving Dick Shavers fast enough is beyond the pale. In fact, Dick Shavers was one of the success stories. He was approved after taking steps to fix his credit with resources that N.O. Habitat for Humanity provided to him and his family. As for his stepson being in a different district, I thought that the Recovery School District was open access? There's so much more wrong with this logic that it's not worth a full analysis. (In any event, what an appalling accusation, makes me sick to my stomach to think that neighbors of mine think that my and other Habitat folks' hard work is a negative thing, but I guess that's New Orleans.)
Thanks for listening. As New Orleans' _largest home-builder since Katrina_, and the only one in that category that is actually building homes targeted to lower-income folks, we have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
My comments: 1) Perhaps the reporter doesn't get Habitat. I do. You, obviously, don't get the name "Musicians' Village". Once again, Habitat is soliciting donations for a place that houses musicians in name only. I donated, other people donated because we thought our money was going to be used to target musicians who needed housing. That is not the Habitat way, and I understand that. It is, however, disingenuous and false advertising.
2) Please don't cite wikipedia as a valid source. If you do, I'll have the Colbert Nation go in there and change it. Your own spokespeople are skewing the numbers by redefining what you call a musician. My 1 year old now beats on pots and pans -- in the Habitat NOLA book, I guess that makes him a musician.
3) "Dick Shavers was one of the success stories". I can't believe you said that. Let me print it again: "Dick Shavers was one of the success stories".
4) I was wrong about the RSD, and I retracted and apologized for those comments.
5) You should certainly be ashamed of taking donations for a "Musicians Village" when you know that the money will not be targeting musicians.
Also, let's note that Habitat, in order to avoid further bad press, changed their website/flyers, so that their former poster boy (Glen Andrews) is no longer the poster boy. Why? Because he was denied admission to the Musicians Village.
Guess what? Nobody wants a giveaway program for musicians. That's not the point, guys.
The point is we need to have a program to help New Orleans musicians, and the musicians village ain't it.
Jan Ramsey: It seems like you had a fantastic idea for this Musicians’ Village and it didn’t fit within the parameters of what Habitat for Humanity does, and the way they sell houses
Harry: We don’t find their rules to be unacceptable or inappropriate at all. Of course, I grew up rich and stayed that way.
Branford: With respect to that, one of the things that I’m very happy about with the way Habitat is setting this up is that they’re helping us move away from that insulated environment that the musicians used to live in, and having them think in a way that’s more in line with the market realities of this country.
Alex Rawls: Do you think that the people who have contributed to the Musicians Village understood the whole program?
Their answer was a spin move worthy of Alan Iverson or Dick Cheney.
Rawls: Does it strike you as odd having a Musicians’ Village where musicians are, at least at this stage, the minority?
Branford dipped and dodged like Patches O'Houlihan, and offbeat found this gem:
It’s not obvious how the Fair Housing Act would prohibit an all-musician village. While that would certainly go against general notions of fairness, Section 804 (a) declares it unlawful to “refuse to sell or rent after the making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” Throughout the act, those are the conditions under which discrimination is illegal; occupation is not mentioned.
Now watch for the next line, where Branford and Harry catapult themselves into the land of the mook.
Rawls: I understand what you’re saying about the housing rules, but this has been pitched as “the Musicians’ Village.”
Marsalis: It’s a musicians’ village in a peripheral sense. You can’t find me a single piece of documentation that says, “We’re building homes only for musicians.”
Connick: The girl who starred with me in The Pajama Game, Kelli O’Hara, comes from Elk City, Oklahoma, but I don’t see any elk there, you know what I’m saying? It’s a name; let’s be real.
What mooks. You little rich kids. You don't even live here. What the hell do you care about preserving New Orleans music. You just don't get it.
Offbeat comment: True, but New Orleans musicians have a reason to think otherwise. That was certainly the tone of the initial message, so much so that none of the stories written about the Musicians’ Village printed in New Orleans mentioned that the village would not be reserved strictly for musicians. Only one Associated Press wire service story raised that issue; it quoted Jim Pate, executive director of New Orleans’ Habitat for Humanity, as saying, “Habitat cannot reserve houses for a specific group, and non-musicians would also live in the village.”
Offbeat gets it. Harry and Branford don't.
Marsalis: If you look around the village and the musicians that are here now, none of them play the music that we play, not one of them. The ones that are qualified for homes, we couldn’t hire them to play in our bands. We’re not catering to any particular group, so the idea that any particular group feels they particularly deserve any more consideration then others is unfair.
Offbeat: That notion didn’t come from an undue sense of entitlement. Jim Pate told reporters that the Musicians’ Village “will provide the mentors and teachers for the next generation of New Orleans jazz and blues musicians. . . . The next generation will be living side by side by the old legends and the older masters who will teach them at the Ellis Marsalis Performance Center.”
Next, we have a comment to my complicity post from Ann Marie Wilkins of Wilkins Management, the manager of both Branford and Harry.
I have managed Branford and Harry for over twenty years and someone who read this blog asked me to help explain what is going on at the Village. For the past 10 or so years, we have been the largest supporters of Habitat in new Orleans. (The houses we built with Habitat pre-Katrina are still standing because they are elevated and built to withstand winds of 140MPH.) We believe in Habitat's model - empowering low-income families by giving them a hand-up, not a hand-out and the use of homeownership as a way of transforming lives. For middle-clas America, homeownership is the single largest source of wealth-creation and it works to improve the lives of generations to come.
When Habitat asked Branford and Harry to join in their efforts to rebuild New Orleans after the storm, they agreed to help but insisted that some of the houses be specifically reserved for Musicians - not something that Habitat had contemplated at all. At the time, Habitat was in the process of acquiring the 8 acre site that is now the Musicians' Village. Several families were already qualified for that site and the money for those homes was already being provided by the Baptist Church. Branford and Harry asked Habitat to designate that site as the Village since it is a contiguous five block site and would work well to house the center and surrounding houses for musicians. (Habitat is the largest homebuilder for low-income residents in New Orleans right now and is involved in building at several other sites across the city in areas that have no connection to this Village. They hope to build 1500 homes for low-income families.)
When it is completed, the Village will have 70 single family homes, and ten rental apartments for elderly musicians, plus the Ellis Marsalis Center (a performance/recording and teaching facility) and a little park for toddlers. (The money that we have raised for the Village is segregated in a separate account and Harry and Branford are commited to keep working until they raise enough to finish the project and endow the center - not there yet but they are working non-stop.) In the area immediately surrounding the Village in the Upper 9th, Habitat is in the process of acquiring more lots and will build many other homes, although these will be scattered single family homes, and Branford and Harry will continue to push to get as many musicians into those as well. By law, Habitat cannot discriminate in terms of the profession of it's homeowners, but we have a particular interest in making sure that musicians get into these homes.
As of this writing, 50 families have been approved for the Village and 30 of them are musicians. (This number includes the well deserving non-musician families who had qualified for this site way before the storm.) There are presently about 120 musicians going through the home-ownership application process, including several brass band musicians (since this is a category that this blog cares about). By law, Habitat cannot divulge the names of it's applicants or their status.
The application process is long and tedious, especially for a first- time homeowner applicant, as most Habitat applicants are. I am told that after the intial meeting, applicants are called by phone and are sent letters telling them how to qualify, how to work through the process, including how to get credit counseling. They are required to go to budgeting classes, credit classes, meet with lawyers etc. I have been advised that none of the people identified by name here so far were denied; they were simply re-drected to other resources that are available to help them get through this very first stage of the application process. Since many of these musicians have never done anything like this, I think they mistakenly believed that once they went to the Habitat office, they were going to be given a key to a new home (and some people in the New Orleans community think that's what should be happening and are very vocal about it, but that is simply not what Habitat does, and Branford and Harry do not support that model and have so stated publicly). Branford, Harry and Habitat have assembled lots of people to help, but each musician has to take some initiative and follow-up. (I work with musicians and I know that this is a particularly daunting part of the process and I have been told that many applicants have missed four, five, six appointments in a row.) I know that some readers of this blog have bought homes and you know that buying a home is not like renting an apartment; there is a LOT of paper-work. Habitat has built 200,000 homes around the world for low-income families and this is the process that every applicant goes through. Musicians cannot be excepted from this process and will not be; the process is designed to ensure that once an applicant completes the process, he/she can keep the home and not lose it to creditors. (The houses are sold for $75,000 and are valued at a significantly higher figure so there is equity and a wealth transfer immediately upon closing - something creditors love.)It simply makes no sense to give a house to someone who cannot (or will not) pay the $500 per month note (by comparison, I am told that a one-bedroom apartment in New Orleans now goes for close to $1,000 per month rent)and let it end up in the hands of a creditor in a few months. Habitat owes a duty to the donors and the tons of volunteers who rely on them to make sure that these homes go to deserving low-income home-owners and not to some creditor looking to flip the house and make a quick buck. The process is designed to teach the homeowner this simple fact - and that's why all homeowners are requred to go through this very difficult process and help build the home.
We are aware that many musicians do not want to be bothered with this process, and so this Village is not for everyone. Besides, the housing need in New Orleans is just overwhelming and this one project will not fix this great big problem. Habitat's experience in this arena shows that once a home owner qualifies, and he and his family actually hammer the nails and paint the rooms etc, he takes such pride in the home that he will not let it go to a creditor. (One ironic thing that Habitat has learned is that musicians have better credit profiles than most applicants since they generally can't get credit in the first place because of their cash existence!)
Habitat has made many accomodations to qualify musicians within the context of it's federal charter; for example, in lieu of tax returns or W-2's they are looking at gig calendars. They do not look at credit scores. Under the federal rules, at a minimum, they have to ensure that the homeowner has the inclination/ability to pay(as these are not free homes) and removes any debt that will attach to the home and may cause the musician to lose the house. In addition, last year Branford and Harry hired a New Orleanian with deep roots in the music community to help the musician applicants through the application process and to direct them to the many resources available to help them with credit issues. But none of this works unless the musician gets up and goes to the meetings, or puts in the time to help build the house. I have personally been told that since we are raising money for musicians, it is their money and we need to be handing out checks. This is just not going to happen. Habitat is chartered to build houses, qualify homeowners and that's all they can do under the law.
I hope this helps to explain what's going on in New Orleans at the Village. If you are able to, I urge you to visit New Orleans and go to the site. If you really want to know which musicians have qualified for homes, I encourage you to go down and volunteer and meet them because Habitat can't by law provide you with a list. That would be a violation of the homeowner's privacy.
We are extremely proud of what has been accomplished thus far. This is a capital and labor intensive program that takes time. But I am proud that Branford and Harry are actually doing something concrete to help a city they dearly love and some very happy families are living in these houses right now. These guys never envisioned that eighteen months after the storm much of New Orleans would still be in ruins or that a volunteer-driven, non-profit like Habitat would still be the largest homebuilder in the city! This Village is just a small start. Branford and Harry welcome and encourage others join in and help to right this enormous tragedy.
Thanks for taking the time to read this.
Thank you for writing, Ann. However, the problems I noted before are still problems now. The whole raison d'etre for many donations was that it was the Musicians Village. That is a misnomer, and misleading. Above, you state that there will be apartments for elderly musicians. How? How can you discriminate based on profession for the apartments, when you don't for the houses?
People that are helping musicians are the Tipitina's musicians coop. They have had several sessions on how to jump through the labyrinthian hoops of Habitat. The New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund is helping.
Right now, though, the best bet for New Orleans musicians is Sweet Home New Orleans. "Sweet Home New Orleans (SHNO) is a program designed to facilitate the return of displaced New Orleans musicians, Mardi Gras Indians, and Social Aid & Pleasure Club members."
Well now, that's what we're talking about, isn't it.
I spoke with the members of the Hot8 brass band, and most of them applied and all who applied were rejected. At last contact, one member thought he might be able to get in.
Another member now lives in Metairie, and expressed that he didn't want to live around musicians, knockin' on his door at 4:00 in the morning, back from a gig, ready to party. ;^)
Supposedly, Habitat does have a place in the MV for Al Carnival Time Johnson. Good. I believe this is in one of the apartments, but I'm not positive.
They don't have room for a musician I am choosing not to name. Not a brass band player, but a unique New Orleans voice, who has appeared on many New Orleans recordings as a backup singer. He's been a sideman for 30+ years. I got acquainted with him through Antoinette K-Doe. Ms K-Doe stated that she has no need to apply for the MV, as she has a home and has her finances in order. This singer, who released an album the week of August 28, 2005, does not have the financial wherewithal to pass Habitat's rigorous standards, and has given up on them.
Guys like him are why I donated. Once again, the neighborhoods where the musicians lived, the neighborhoods ruined by the federal flood, were very unique demographically. A majority of the people owned their own homes, yet over a third were under the poverty line, and 14% were unemployed. This numbers seem to contradict themselves, but can be explained by the fact that many extended families lived under the same roof. Often the title for the house was in the name of a long-deceased relative. When several generations lived in the same house, this was not a big deal, really. As the families were scattered, it does become a big deal. I don't think Habitat has a plan for housing a family of 8, from age 82 to 8 months; but this was almost common in the 9th ward. For more on this, read this post. To go really in depth, read John Logan's report. JoeJoeJoe thinks he may have found a solution. I think so, too. I'm certain these homes could be built in the form of a modern shotgun home for very little money. If land values in New Orleans are prohibitive then Plaquemines Parish would be a good spot to build them If you allow for 500% increase in cost for a better quality roof, finish, and a basic Japanese style instant on gas heater that is still only $15,000 or one-quarter the cost of a FEMA trailer. Because these homes are built (poured) with unskilled labor the costs should translate from the third world to the first world. I don't have any ties to this company - just a general interest in housing. They built thousands of Earthquake homes post-1906 San Francisco earthquake that were of such high quality that people use them today. All of this foot dragging is unexectable and far less competent than modern Indonesia or San Francisco a century ago. I'd love to live in a concrete Shotgun Shack in New Orleans with a Japanese heater/water heater (no tank, instant on) and free dial up wireless. Paint the little homes a colorful pastel, throw a porch on the front when you can afford it and you can live well for a century. Concrete ain't goin' anywhere and you don't need flood insurance on a home that only cost you $15,000 grand tops. It's just a thought. I hate the fact that so many people accept all these excuses for inaction. Like a cute Irish girl I know says "Bring it, don't sing it".
I was reading your blog posts on Habitat housing and wanted to share something I saw online. There is a South African company that makes reusable plastic forms that can be cast as a simple home in one day. Finish work would obviously take longer but they are pretty nice homes to my eye. Here is an example from Aceh Province, Indonesia with costs and plans down to a fine level of detail.
on less expensive land. The home cost $3,000 each in the Aceh project.
Guys like him are why I donated.
Once again, the neighborhoods where the musicians lived, the neighborhoods ruined by the federal flood, were very unique demographically. A majority of the people owned their own homes, yet over a third were under the poverty line, and 14% were unemployed. This numbers seem to contradict themselves, but can be explained by the fact that many extended families lived under the same roof.
Often the title for the house was in the name of a long-deceased relative. When several generations lived in the same house, this was not a big deal, really. As the families were scattered, it does become a big deal. I don't think Habitat has a plan for housing a family of 8, from age 82 to 8 months; but this was almost common in the 9th ward. For more on this, read this post. To go really in depth, read John Logan's report.
JoeJoeJoe thinks he may have found a solution. I think so, too.
I'm certain these homes could be built in the form of a modern shotgun home for very little money. If land values in New Orleans are prohibitive then Plaquemines Parish would be a good spot to build them
If you allow for 500% increase in cost for a better quality roof, finish, and a basic Japanese style instant on gas heater that is still only $15,000 or one-quarter the cost of a FEMA trailer. Because these homes are built (poured) with unskilled labor the costs should translate from the third world to the first world.
I don't have any ties to this company - just a general interest in housing. They built thousands of Earthquake homes post-1906 San Francisco earthquake that were of such high quality that people use them today.
All of this foot dragging is unexectable and far less competent than modern Indonesia or San Francisco a century ago. I'd love to live in a concrete Shotgun Shack in New Orleans with a Japanese heater/water heater (no tank, instant on) and free dial up wireless. Paint the little homes a colorful pastel, throw a porch on the front when you can afford it and you can live well for a century. Concrete ain't goin' anywhere and you don't need flood insurance on a home that only cost you $15,000 grand tops.
It's just a thought. I hate the fact that so many people accept all these excuses for inaction. Like a cute Irish girl I know says "Bring it, don't sing it".
So, I'm thinking that something like this, with somebody like Sweet Home coordinating it, could be a true solution for the people that created and sustain the culture of New Orleans, and need a place to live in their home. I believe that a "rent-to-own" type scenario, where the musicians can rent a place now, and live there while their credit improves, and then convert to homeownership, is ideal.
A true Musicians' Village.
Update: Please read through all of the comments.
All I care about is getting housing for musicians.
Rather than believe the accusations of Mr Andy Lee, I asked Ms Reckdahl, the author of the Times-Picyune and Offbeat articles posted above, myself. I asked her to read through this post and the comments, and here is her reply:
After the Times-Picayune published my piece about the Musicians' Village in January, Andy Lee and the Habitat spin team sent a 20-page document to the editor of the Times-Picayune, filled with "factual errors" about the story. For instance, Habitat claimed that, contrary to Alfred Growe's and Dinerral Shavers' claim, there actually were more brass-band musicians in the Village. When asked for names to actually document that, they came up with one -- Troy Sawyer -- who plays straight-ahead jazz, not brass-band music. Most of their other claims were similarly ridiculous.
I've been a journalist for a long time. And I'll be honest, if someone really picks apart a lengthy story of mine, they can usually find some factual error. But Habitat didn't find ONE, not one, incorrect fact. And it wasn't for lack of attention -- my editors and I spent hours scrutinizing my piece and then going through the facts step by step, until I proved everything to their satisfaction.
Habitat disputes the numbers we published, which is crazy to me. I spent 45 minutes on the telephone with their spokeswoman trying to get "apples to apples" numbers, comparing musicians and nonmusicians in the Habitat process. Then Habitat decries the numbers THEY GAVE ME -- that out of 116 total families in the final stages of Habitat's process, 28 families -- about one in four -- were musicians. Now Habitat is saying that there are 120 "musicians in the pipeline." How is that possible, when the spokeswoman told me that, in 2006, New Orleans Area Habitat had 2000 applicants in 2006 and that 200 of them were from musicians, 28 of whom had become “partner-families”?
Where does the 120 come from? There needs to be some transparency here, some consistency in the numbers they're promoting. Plus Habitat's "numbers" are so difficult to get. I dare anyone to actually get clear numbers about how many musicians and non-musicians are in each stage of Habitat's process. Because that's the point -- musicians may apply and they may be "in the pipeline." But how many are making it to the final stages of homeownership?
Also, to my understanding, musicians have been signing a publicity waver when they get to those final stages, so I don't know why Habitat can't release all the names.
As far as my conflict of interest goes, I did date Kid Merv, a local jazz musician and when he applied to the Musicians' Village, he put me down as a co-applicant. We broke up in April 2006 and -- as I understood it -- he phoned them in subsequent months, telling them that he was applying on his own. (If that wasn't clear then, Andy Lee and another Habitat staffperson I had a discussion in September in which I made it clear that I was no longer an applicant.)
I did disclose that I had been an applicant to my Offbeat editor and to the Times-Picayune editors. They agreed separately that, since my then-boyfriend's application had made it past the initial credit stage that I was writing about, I had no ax to grind and thus there was no need to disclose my application. Think about it -- if I had passed the initial credit check, what would be my motivation to anger Habitat for Humanity?
In the end, in the interest of full disclosure, the Times-Picayune published a clarification (not a correction) that I had indeed disclosed my status as an applicant within my Musicians' Village story and that they had decided not to disclose it. I believe that Offbeat is about to publish a similar clarification. I support both of those clarifications.
So, to get a better handle on what's going on with the "Musicians' Village", read through all the comments, and make your own informed opinion.