Sunday, July 30, 2006

Habitat for Humanity's "Musicians' Village" Project Update

As one of our first Street Talk stories, we covered a new initiative by the international affordable-housing charity Habitat for Humanity. The New Orleans Musicians' Village was to be a grouping of Habitat homes in New Orleans' Upper Ninth Ward, centered around a $2.5 million-dollar community center where musicians who lived in the Habitat homes could perform and mentor children living in the community. The project, which was initiated by longtime Habitat supporters Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis, was touted heavily as a solution to the dearth of housing for musicians displaced by Katrina.

In planning the project, Habitat stepped outside its usual template in the interests of serving the unique challenge posed by post-Katrina New Orleans. Among other things, they included rental units in the building plans and developed new models for the "sweat equity" usually required of Habitat residents: musicians could exchange hours of performance or music teaching for hours actually spent working on building Habitat homes. However, four months after the first frames went up, only six musicians so far have qualified, according to Habitat's standard criteria, for the residences. Problems so far have included the required credit check and income verification needed to secure the no-interest loan Habitat secures for homeowners in its program; many musicians have poor or no credit, and work sporadically or on a cash basis, making regular income hard to quantify and document. Eve Troeh spoke with musicians ad Habitat representatives to see how the organization is making headway in getting around these obstacles.

The Habitat for Humanity Musician's Village is taking shape in the upper ninth ward. The first new homeowners will move in this month. But thousands of New Orleans musicians are still in need of more immediate housing, and other services.