The 19th story about our renovation appeared in today’s paper.
FITS AND STARTS FOR MID-CITY REBUILD
Saturday, May 05, 2007
By Stephanie Bruno
NOTE: Bart Everson and Christy Paxson have been living upstairs in their raised-basement house since Hurricane Katrina, while repair work progresses (occasionally) in their downstairs entertainment area. Recently, it hasn’t been lack of progress on the renovation that concerns them, but lack of repopulation and stability in their Mid-City neighborhood.
Crews are making progress on Bart Everson’s Mid-City home, though the work has been anything but steady. “We’ll have workers for a day or two, sometimes even a few consecutive days,” Everson said. “Then they’re gone for a while until they appear again.”
A similar situation would rankle many others, but Everson says the on-again, off-again pace of the project conforms with an unspoken agreement that he and his wife, Christy Paxson, have with contractor Mike Kaplan.
“Mike fits us in between pressing jobs at other locations,” Everson said. “We’re the lucky ones, because we have a place to live. Christy and I have been able to live upstairs in relative comfort because just our basement flooded. But we know that many of Mike’s clients weren’t so lucky. We’re OK with him fitting us in between jobs for others with more urgent needs.”
“Relative comfort” got even better a few months ago when Kaplan’s crews rewired all of the ceiling fixtures upstairs in the house, replacing knob-and-tube wiring.
“To make it safe after the storm, Mike had deactivated all of the old knob-and-tube, so all we had for more than a year was base outlets. Let me tell you, it was pretty dark in some areas upstairs.” Now fixtures are back in place, and the upstairs living area is illuminated again.
As patient as Everson has been, he is eager to see one wiring job completed.
“It’s getting hot out there, you know? We have a whole-house fan that has been out of commission while the repairs are under way, and we used that thing all the time. It draws air through the whole house, and you know what that does: It makes it feel cooler than it is. Most years, we could make it to June 1 without turning on the air conditioner, but this week, the first of May, we had to turn it on, because the fan isn’t back in yet.”
If progress at Everson’s home has been erratic, it has been almost imperceptible in his area of the Mid-City neighborhood. Everson says the rate of repopulation seems to have tapered off, and he is concerned about the seemingly constant turnover in residents.
“Christy and I were alone here, in the dark, after the storm. Eventually there were a few more people, but not the renters who were living here before — new ones. That continued for a while, but now it feels like as soon as you get to know someone, they move on. Sometimes they say their landlords won’t fix problems and that they deserve better for the high rents they are paying.”
Others may be concerned about crime, which recently hit close to home.
“There was a lot of commotion outside, and we discovered a policewoman taking umpteen photos, with spare change and some drops of blood scattered on the ground. The policewoman said it had been a robbery, and someone else said it was a fight between four guys who had jumped another guy. Was it random or did they know each other? We don’t know, but it was discouraging.”
Sometimes Everson worries that the desolation in his neighborhood may be affecting him more deeply.
“I’m concerned that the situation here is changing me in ways I don’t want to change. Some people seem to be moving on, trying to start the next phase of their lives, falling in love, that kind of thing. But I wake up every morning and look around and am constantly reminded that we need to work harder and do more to bring the city back.”
Everson will get some relief — as well as useful instruction — when he attends a leadership conference in June at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
“Three of us from New Orleans are going: LaToya Cantrell from Broadmoor, Patricia Jones from the Lower 9th Ward and I’m from Mid-City,” he said. “I never thought of myself as a leader, so I even had to look up the word to find out what it was supposed to mean.”
Thanks to assignments designed to prepare participants for the conference, Everson said he is already gaining new insights.
“They’re piling on the homework,” he said. “I already have a book to read, an essay to write and a survey to complete beforehand. The book (“Leadership on the Line” by Ronald L. Heifetz and Marty Linsky) explains how authority and leadership are often confused for one another, but that they are not the same thing. And it explores what happens when leadership fails.
“The whole time you’re reading it, you can’t help thinking about New Orleans. It’s as if the book was written about us.”
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Stephanie Bruno can be reached at [email protected]