The Renewing of the Ninth Ward

Wednesday of this week, a friend from North Carolina who serves his association as its director of missions, the same assignment I have in New Orleans, flew in to town, stayed eight hours, and returned home at suppertime. In between, he saw the following: the headquarters of NAMB’s Operation NOAH Rebuild and talked to the staff there; the Lakewood section of New Orleans and the First Baptist Church; our associational offices, where he met with David Rhymes our evangelism strategist; lunch at Cafe Roma with three of our young pastors; the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where he met with Dr. Ken Gabrielse; New Orleans East as seen from Interstate 10, then St. Bernard Parish where he saw the Chalmette High School and toured Hopeview Church which is now serving as our Volunteer Village; Delacroix Hope Church in lower St. Bernard Parish where he met with Pastor Boogie Melerine; back through Poydras and a tour of the FBC of Chalmette; a tour of the worst hit place in our city, the lower 9th ward, mostly vacant lots these days; the section of new homes on Alvar Street variously called Musician’s Village and Baptist Crossroads; the Baptist Friendship House where Karina America gave him a quick tour; and finally, the Vieux Carre’ Baptist Church in the French Quarter where he visited with Pastor Greg Hand and assistant, Greg Wilton. Then, on to the airport.

I’m confident he collapsed once he sat down to wait for his plane. He’s interested in bringing groups down to help rebuild our city, and we wanted to be good stewards of his time.

At the multicolored Habitat homes on Alvar Street (and several blocks in and around there), I talked to several people who were working. She was from Chicago: “My husband grew up here, and he really has this city on his heart.” He was from Berkeley, California: “Our company brought some of us in here to work.” And Matt was from Seattle: “I’ve been here before. What keeps me coming back is the Baptists.” (Really. He said that.) “I’ve never known such wonderful people with such great hearts.”

Then, Thursday morning, the Times-Picayune ran a long article about these homes. Here are excerpts. And keep in mind, that what we call Baptist Crossroads, many others call Musicians’ Village. Jim Pate of Habitat told me they don’t try to differeniate.

Staff writer Leslie Williams wrote:

“On Alvar Street in the Upper Ninth Ward, the landscape speaks volumes about rebuilding efforts guided by Habitat for Humanity verses those of the free market and government.”

“Brightly colored homes–tangerine, powder blue, sienna, and yellow–with porches and gardens line the Habitat side of Alvar from North Roman to North Johnson Streets.”

“On the other side stands a hodgepodge of non-Habitat homes in various states. More than two years after Hurricane Katrina, some of those homes remain neglected. Others are gutted. Repairs are under way at some. One house is new. A handful have been fully restored.”

“Among residents who have returned to the St. Claude neighborhood, many credit Habitat, which has received much assistance from the Baptist Crossroads Foundation, for improving the quality of life in the neighborhood.”

“Habitat, its sponsors, volunteer army and homebuyers have constructed 62 homes within the programmatic boundaries of the Musicians’ Village. Another 64 are under construction. And Habitat has spent $435,000 to acquire 29 more lots for homes it plans to build in the St. Claude neighborhood.”

“The St. Claude neighborhood has 53 percent of its 11,761 pre-Katrina population, said Mike Flores, vice president of the Baptist Crossroads Foundation, which teamed up with Habitat to build the homes on Alvar Street. The foundation also has provided thousands of volunteers for the affordable housing initiative.”

“According to a July 2007 survey, there was ‘no activity’ regarding 29 percent of the structures in the neighborhood, Flores said. Other findings: about 4 percent of the homes were vacant; 24 percent were gutted; 39 percent were renovated and new construction represented 4 percent.”

“The Habitat homes (were) built on the former Kohn Junior High School site and on vacant lots throughout the neighborhood.”

One resident told how pre-Katrina, she was burglarized 5 times in a 2-3 year period. But not once since these Habitat houses have been built, in the two years since Katrina. She said she believes the police patrol the area better since Habitat volunteers are working in the neighborhood and tour buses regularly drive down the streets.

Habitat has received a federal grant to repave Alvar Street, and the city is promising to pave the other streets in the sparkling new, multi-colored neighborhood. Habitat plans to spend more than a million dollars building new streets where previously there were none (since this was a huge playground).

The woman from Chicago was surprised to hear that the vision for this new neighborhood predates Katrina by a full year. When I started talking about it, Matt said, “Are you Dr. Crosby?” I assured him I’m not, but that I was there with him at the conception of this vision. It was all the Holy Spirit working in and through David, but seeing it now, I’m thrilled to have been “there at the Creation.”

The website is We’re always needing volunteers–particularly those with actual construction/plumbing/electrical skills–as well as financial contributions.