If my neighbors are lucky, their houses haven't sustained more than 50 percent damage from Katrina. They can get a building permit from the New Orleans Department of Safety and Permits and start restoring their homes. According to the National Flood Insurance Call Center (800-427-5593), these homeowners will continue to qualify for flood insurance. If they weren't as fortunate and Katrina destroyed more than 50 percent of the value of their homes, they might have to elevate their houses to obtain flood insurance.
Finding out the extent of the damage to your home -- ultimately a building inspector will make that determination -- can be a nerve-racking experience. Many nights, however, when I should be sleeping, I think about a much larger concern: Before my family can move forward, we somehow have to know what the rest of Broadmoor will do.
Philip Wallace, my neighbor and the principal at Newman Middle School, wants to move back. His house is a split-level, and water didn't reach his elevated living area. Wallace only needs to rewire his property and purchase a hot-water heater. He has lived in or close to Broadmoor since 1970, and he and his wife, Pam, raised their two kids on South Prieur Street. When the Wallaces moved to South Prieur, there were other families already living on the block. The Wallaces became part of this close-knit group. Kids played together, parents chatted or shouted hello across the yard and there were any number of get-togethers every year. The adults held similar interests; a number of them worked in the education system. Wallace loved the multicultural mix that the area offered.
With his kids grown and moved out, Wallace considers my family kind of a second generation to his on South Prieur Street. My wife, Beth, and I are the proud parents of a 22-month-old daughter, Claire. While Beth was pregnant, the neighbors threw us a baby shower. Folks stood in the kitchen with platefuls of red beans and spoke to each other like old friends. Neighborhood stories were recounted; laughter and hope filled the air.
Philip worries about the rest of Broadmoor, those who suffered more damage. He wonders if they will attempt to rebuild and what effect the bureaucracy will have on their decision. "If people choose to come back," says Wallace, "I hope the city or the federal government won't put up any roadblocks to prevent them."
City Council Member-At-Large and Broadmoor resident Oliver Thomas plans to rebuild his home. Neighborhoods like Broadmoor can't be ignored, Thomas says. If the federal government tries to prevent homeowners from starting over, then city government needs to step in.
"I don't have much," says Thomas. "I'm not going to let someone tell me what I can do with what I own. If a house is truly sound and environmentally safe, then no one should stop them -- even if it's the only house on the block."
Maybe part of Thomas' persistence comes from the fact that Broadmoor began taking shape as a family neighborhood during the 1870s. By the 1940s, more than 50 percent of Broadmoor's houses were owner-occupied, and the area was made up of mostly middle-class families. Up until two months ago, Broadmoor had slightly less than 50 percent owner-occupied houses. The average household income, $36,399, was lower than the citywide average of $43,179.
St. Mathias Church and school has been a fixture in the neighborhood since the early 1900s. Across the street from the church sits the Rosa Keller Branch of the New Orleans Public Library, a former residential home that became a city-designated landmark in 1986 and a library in 1993. I served as the children's services coordinator for the New Orleans Public Library until recently, and I saw the library's vibrancy in the Broadmoor community. People regularly flowed through its doors, checking out materials or using the computers. After school and during the summer, the library was a loud place filled with kids from nearby St. Mathias or Andrew Wilson Elementary School working on homework or taking part in various children's programs.
I belong in Broadmoor. I have worked and lived here for more than seven years. I met Beth for the first time at the Rendon Inn, and my daughter was born at Memorial Baptist Hospital -- just as were so many of Beth's siblings. In life after Katrina, I am still trying to see into the future. I drive through Broadmoor's streets asking the few people cleaning up or emptying out their homes what they're going to do. Some are staying, some are leaving, and most are unsure.
Maybe the building inspector can provide an answer. He says that he's giving out three more building permits in Broadmoor today. Three permits out of 3,222 housing units. It's a start.