The Associated Press has been following the rebuilding process of one working-class block in New Orleans. This is an installment of an occasional series.
NEW ORLEANS — Gloria Cauldfield looked down the littered street to where workers were busily restoring three flooded rental houses — adding new kitchens, baths, central air and heat, fresh paint.
Nice places. Much nicer than they were before Hurricane Katrina ripped off their roofs and sent floodwaters surging through them last August.
Cauldfield, who’s lived on Broadway Street for 26 years and knew everyone on the block in this working-class neighborhood, is pretty sure she won’t know the people who move into them.
“People are waiting to see if they can move back. But they only paid $225 for rent before. Somebody in the block had said they’re going to be $600 or $700 a month,” Cauldfield said. “From $225, that’s a big jump.”
New families live in the neighborhood’s only three houses that have been repaired. Every other building is still empty, and many have seen no repairs at all.
Cauldfield has fixed her roof but is back in her house only part time. The back of the house still needs to be shored up. She has electricity but no gas. To get that turned on, she first must get a licensed plumber to certify the structure is safe. She says that will cost another $600.
The street remains forlorn. Potholes mark the pavement, trash fills the gutters, a telephone pole still lies on the sidewalk.
Looking forward to work
Despite the heat and dirt, Cauldfield likes to sit on her porch. She watches workers remove piles of debris, then watches other workers make new piles as they gut houses — a process that fills the hot air with the sounds of bulldozers, saws and hammers.
Where Cauldfield, 63, would really like to be is next door in her restaurant, Gloria’s Restaurant — “Home of the $1 Breakfast.”
“I wish I could go in there today and work, ’cause that’s my life, and my living,” she said. “If I could get back to work, it would be therapy for me.”
Five feet of water stayed for weeks in her restaurant. It covered the massive stove, the deep fryers, the grill. Mold grew on the walls, the tile buckled on the floor. The grease in the deep fryers floated out in the flood water and coated everything.
Green Stevens Jr., Cauldfield’s cousin and a contractor, has gutted the restaurant.
“It won’t take but maybe two to three weeks to get it back up and running once we start,” Stevens said. “That’s with doing all new electrical, framing, drywall, the floors and whatever else needs to be done.”
Stevens estimates the work will cost $25,000 to $35,000.
Fighting with insurance people
Dorothy Poydras, Cauldfield’s sister and the owner of the building, has been fighting her insurance carrier for months over the damage estimate. Her carrier, she said, gave her only $15,000 to fix the restaurant and another home.
“That’s what my problem is,” Poydras said. “I turned it over to an attorney and he’s trying to get my money now.”
Shirley Jackson, who lived in an apartment next to the restaurant for the last 15 years, is also eager to see the building repaired.
“I get homesick every day,” Jackson said. “When I come back here I feel better. Back here, I can walk around because I know everybody.”
“Everything has gone up, everything,” Poydras said.
Tenants aren’t the only ones feeling the financial pinch.
Dorothy Diaz owns the house at 3111 Broadway. Dorothy Warren, who lived there with her mother and five children before Hurricane Katrina, is in Dallas and longing to return.
Possessions become obstacles
But the now-moldy clothes, furniture, appliances and toys that Warren left behind — all the things that made up her family’s life — are keeping anyone from moving back in.
Many landlords have simply dumped tenants’ abandoned property, but Diaz has been slogging through the courts to get a proper order.
“It’s already cost me quite a few hundred,” said Diaz, 71, who’s now living in Mississippi. “And I haven’t even touched the house.”
Diaz’s New Orleans house was severely damaged, as were the four rental properties she bought with the insurance money she got after her husband died. When she retired from Charity Hospital, she thought the properties would provide for her retirement, but now she’s struggling — especially without adequate insurance on the rentals.
“I invested the money (in property) rather than go buy a new wardrobe or something,” she said, pointing to the dilapidated house. “I said, ’Well, I’ve got everything taken care of.”’
Unfortunately for Diaz, Katrina took care of that.
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