Audie Cornish, NPR
The Folse family moved to Toulouse Street in New Orleans. Clockwise from top right, Mark Folse, his wife Rebecca Noack, and their children, Killian and Matthew.
The Folse family moved to Toulouse Street in New Orleans. Clockwise from top right, Mark Folse, his wife Rebecca Noack, and their children, Killian and Matthew. Audie Cornish, NPR
Audie Cornish, NPR
Mark Folse sits in his home office. His company let him take his IT job with him to New Orleans.
Mark Folse sits in his home office. His company let him take his IT job with him to New Orleans. Audie Cornish, NPR
At first glance, Mark Folse seems like the typical resilient New Orleanian, running to and from neighborhood association meetings and talking nonstop about how the city should be rebuilt.
But Folse didn't lose his family or home to last year's hurricanes. He moved to the Crescent City from Fargo, N.D., after the storms — uprooting his family but determined to make a difference in reviving New Orleans.
Folse is originally from New Orleans, though he is 10 years and 1,500 miles removed from his Louisiana childhood. Before June, he and his wife Rebecca Noack, 43, were raising their two children near her family in Fargo.
But when Hurricane Katina hit New Orleans and the levees in the city broke down, Folse became upset. He spent all hours of the day on his blog, the Wet Bank Guide, which he started Aug. 29.
"He was just beside himself," Noack says. "He did relief work fundraising and that did help. But then one day he says, 'I got to move home.'"
"The city was empty and it was not clear how everyone was gonna come back," Folse says. "That made me think I had to be part of that critical mass that made the city survivable."
To his surprise, Noack agreed to the move. "I said, 'OK, how do we do it?' And I think he was in shock." Their children would be entering junior high school and high school respectively the following fall, so the couple figured this would be the best time for the transition.
Within a few weeks, Noack was hired as a human resources manager by an international trading company with New Orleans offices. Noack says she was surprised at how quickly she was hired. But the city had seen its work force shrink by 30 percent, and white collar industries were among the hardest hit.
Noack had to move first for the new job. Her husband stayed to take care of the kids and put their Fargo home up for sale.
Noack says real estate agents were working out of hotel rooms and her tours of the neighborhoods were disheartening.
"There was tons of debris back then. Neighborhoods were deserted and doors were open and windows were up," she recalls. "It was like, 'Gee, I don't know if this is going to work for us.'"
A month later, Noack was sinking their savings into a small shotgun duplex in a dry part of town. It was $100,000 more and 1,000 square feet less than their home in Fargo. And it still needed to be converted into a single-family home.
For the next few weeks, Noack had to compete for contractors and supplies along with the thousands of people gutting and rebuilding.
"Trying to go to Home Depot, trying to go to Lowe's, and you couldn't get any supplies and it was just chaos," says Noack. "I remember a few nights I just had a major meltdown. I was just crying. I was just beside myself. I just couldn't believe I could live one more day in this city."
The entire family moved into their new home on Toulouse Street in the Mid-City neighborhood. Flood waters reached into the area but did not destroy it. There are homes with trailers on the front lawn, and street corners are still dotted with piles of debris. But hardly any retailers have returned; just one grocery store has opened up and the couple says it's too expensive for them to shop there regularly.
"Nobody truly knows how much it has gone up to live here," says Noack. "Some people say 10 percent, some people say 15. I mean everybody is speculating. So we, like everyone else here, are caught on the hamster wheel."
The family's electricity bills run several hundred dollars a month. Their homeowners insurance, at $3,000 per year in a neighborhood that had limited flooding, is triple what it was in Fargo. While their household income of nearly $120,000 a year has not changed, their spending has increased exponentially. Living in this city has dramatically changed the economic future, Folse says.
"It was a knowing gamble to come down here," he says. "In terms of the long-term security and the scary things that could happen. Are we saving enough? Will every insurance company in the nation suddenly decide they won't be anywhere within 300 miles of the coast? We could not be renewed next year and lose our home."
But even after an especially bad day of haggling with contractors, fighting city bureaucrats on the phone or worrying about the conditions of their children's school, Noack says they don't regret the move.
"We are just giving something to this community. So maybe we are not the same economically… but on the other hand, look at the people here," she says. "There's people who still don't have jobs. People who don't have homes, people who don't have a couch, people who have absolutely nothing. We are all in this together."