Call it a working vacation. For the third year in a row, Pastor Brett Miller of Southeast Christian Church, 960 15th Ave. SE, led 70 volunteers from his church and others to New Orleans, where they helped rebuild the city’s housing stock, still damaged from Hurricane Katrina.
“I was surprised there was still that need,” said Miller. “Homeowners seem to be back, but a lot of rental properties aren’t back online. I think the working class is still trying to find their way.”
Five groups, which included 14 Southeast Christian parishioners, worked in two areas of the Upper Ninth Ward on Habitat for Humanity housing.
Two of the five groups worked in the Musician’s Village area, which Miller said is 70 percent complete. That work involves finishing touches to interior work and landscaping.
Three other groups worked nearby on the project headed by Rossalyn and Jimmy Carter, where the houses are not as far along, said Miller. The project is fixing or replacing destroyed houses; chores included installing siding, windows and doors, and deckwork. The homes are being built on four-foot piers — to Florida hurricane code — “so they should be able to withstand significant wind and stand up to flooding,” said Miller.
The single-family, 3-bedroom homes will be made available with no-interest mortgages — but with the need “to put in some sweat equity,” Miller said. Prospective owners must apply and interview for the home before being selected by Habitat for Humanity, Miller explained. The 30-year mortgage comes to about $700 a month, he said. Homes are sold to the elderly, those on a fixed income, younger people with families of their own — “people caught in poverty,” he said, “whether from Katrina or something else. It gives them a hand up and gets them on their feet.”
The work is a continuum for the returning volunteers who, in the first year, cleared mud out of houses and “ripped everything down to the sticks,” Miller said. By 2008, they were working on new houses and beginning to see the fruit of their labors. Miller called it an evolution. “People are very glad to help,” he said.
All told, the volunteers put in 1,960 hours of work, including helping local churches rehab an old bowling alley as a church and community center.
The trip was not all work, however. Each volunteer paid $410 for the bus, meals and accommodations — a $24 “nice hotel in the business district,” Miller said. And after a hard day of work, they got to enjoy the city. “The theory is work hard and enjoy yourself,” he said Miller, adding that the nightlife helps the economy, as well. “It helps provide jobs and rebuild that part.”
Even after three years, there is still need in New Orleans. “I thought going in this [year] would be the end of it,” said Miller, “but there seems to be a high demand to go again. There’s still so much work to be done. It’s a very enjoyable place to go work, too.”
And once that demand is met, there are always other people and places that need help.
“We could go to Iowa, Galveston — there’s need everywhere,” he said, adding that the experience motivates the volunteers to serve not only abroad, but within their own communities.