Homeowners in New Orleans Confront Demolition Saturday is the deadline in New Orleans for homeowners to file for demolition help from FEMA. While many homeowners have explored rebuilding options, some now see demolition as their best choice.
NPR logo

Homeowners in New Orleans Confront Demolition

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/9261655/9261656" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Homeowners in New Orleans Confront Demolition

Homeowners in New Orleans Confront Demolition

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/9261655/9261656" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, building a better world through matzo balls. But first, this week city leaders in New Orleans announced a recovery plan that focuses on 17 zones, including the Lower Ninth Ward. Today is the last day that homeowners can apply for free demolition by FEMA if they didn't have insurance. The city wants people to have the federal government pay now rather than have the city or individual homeowners foot the bill later on.

While demolition represents a fresh start to some, others feel pressure into destroying their house. Eve Troeh reports.

EVE TROEH: To watch a house to get demolished is to witness something violent.

Unidentified Man: Hey. (unintelligible) right here.

TROEH: The yellow bulldozer chomps and spits out drywall, shingles and flooring. But this home on General Haig Street wasn't empty. You see shattered bits of lives - dolls and stuffed animals, T-shirts, a mahogany-colored antique vanity with a cracked mirror. Dust and a rotten smell hang in the air.

This is just one of 15,000 buildings the city says must be demolished for public safety. That's just New Orleans. To many whose homes were devastated, demolition brings more piece of mind than holding onto a house they can't afford to fix.

Mr. LORENE LENTZ(ph) (Squandered Heritage): It just eliminates a really heavy burden.

TROEH: Lorene Lentz works with a group called Squandered Heritage that monitors demolition.

Ms. LENTZ: That way they can be in Houston or wherever they are with the rest of their family. They won't have a liability of a house that is dangerous or could get burned down.

TROEH: But, she says, many people don't think about how they'll cut the grass or keep trash off their newly vacant lot. And, she says, many don't realize a gutted and boarded up house is usually worth more than no house at all. Karen Gadwa(ph) also works with Squandered Heritage. She says the city's not doing enough to help homeowners find a middle ground.

Ms. KAREN GADWA (Squandered Heritage): There are steps between the total obliteration of a house and a health hazard. If there's nothing in the property for animals or people to nest in, they won't nest in it. Clean it, put it into dry storage, so to speak.

TROEH: Gadwa says ideally the state's Road Home program would pay for clean-up. But the money's coming too slow. And, she says, demolition has psychological and financial appeal.

Some people don't have much of a choice. Henry Gurley(ph) has waited for Road Home money to start major work on his flooded house. But the city has put his home on a demolition list. He learned that from a FEMA official who stopped by and offered to tear his house down for free. But Gurley doesn't want it.

Mr. HENRY GURLEY (Homeowner): You say, well, it won't cost you nothing. I say, I tell you what you could do; instead of tearing my house down, I have some trees you can cut down that's going to be in the way when I renovate my house.

TROEH: By rejecting the free demolition, Henry Gurley might have to pay city fines later. Brenda Brough(ph) is chief deputy New Orleans attorney. She says the city isn't pressuring people to tear down but wants them to know their options.

Ms. BRENDA BROUGH (Chief Deputy Attorney, New Orleans): After FEMA stops paying for demolition, individual property owners will have to bear that cost on their own.

TROEH: If homeowners can't pay to tear down or fix their property, the city could eventually take it. Part of the recovery plan announced this week is to use that land reclaimed by the city to pay for new housing developments.

For NPR News, I'm Eve Troeh in New Orleans.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.