Lakeview, Gentilly residents reflect on progress made


by Bill Capo / Eyewitness News

Posted on August 23, 2010 at 6:13 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- Five years after Hurricane Katrina, many of Lakeview resident John Grout's belongings are still in boxes, filling a room in this Metairie house – his seventh temporary home since the storm.

"It's amazing, the sense of displacement, the sense of loss, the sense of why?" said Grout.

He's fought his insurance company, FEMA, the Road Home, city agencies, but after all this time, his new hurricane ready home in Lakeview is nearing completion.

"It's just been one frustration after another, but I want to go home,” Grout said.

And he named it “Rising Water,” a takeoff on famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright's house called “Falling Water.”

But in the weeks after Katrina, as the flood waters were pumped out, and the mud in the streets began to dry, Lakeview's future looked bleak.

"Very emotional, very, the loss was very close," said Glenn Stoudt of the Lakeview Civic Improvement Association.

"It was an ominous situation, and at that time, the challenges seemed to be Herculean,” said demographer Greg Rigamer, chief executive officer of GCR & Associates, an Eyewitness News consultant.

Rigamer charted Lakeview's return and pointed out areas on the map showing a lack of residents, with just a quarter of the post-Katrina population returning by six months after Katrina, to more than three-quarters now.

"People who are here want to be here,” Rigamer said.

Lakeview is bustling with construction crews, new homes and businesses, with two-thirds of the pre-storm houses either occupied or under construction. And in many ways, a new Lakeview is being born, with new stores, new and often younger residents.

"Lakeview, what a place to be a ten-year-old,” said Stoudt. “What a place to be a 25-year-old, and even a 55-year-old, not so bad. For that we're all thankful, and we worked hard to accomplish that."

"Lakeview property values are up, and going up. People want to live here. It's like the old days," said Grout.

Residents in Gentilly can tell a similar story. Actor and Pontchartrain Park native Wendell Pierce worried about his parents coming home after the flood.

"It looked like nuclear winter. I always describe coming back to my neighborhood like Chernobyl," said Pierce.

But once again, a core of residents insisted on returning home, and they became the catalyst for a neighborhood recovery that paralleled efforts citywide.

“The city is back at about 80 percent. Lakeview, we're seeing about 78 percent and Gentily as whole is about 74 percent,” Rigamer said.

Now Wendell Pierce is spearheading the neighborhood community development corporation's efforts to build a new Pontchartrain Park.

“Oh man, I have a sense of momentum, that we have so much is happening, houses are coming back, homes are coming back even better," he said.

Still, there are challenges.

"It's very tough. It's really heart breaking. It's very stressful," said Fredia Lacey, a Gentilly Woods homeowner.

But there is still much work to be done. Murray and Fredia Lacey's home is still at stud stage, and an appeal to Road Home for an extra grant to cover costs was denied again.

"I was just denied for Road Home because I tore my house down too early. How could that be, I don't know,” said Murray Lacey.

"There are so many of us out here that still need assistance, and they’re finding any little thing that they can find to deny you assistance, and the funds are there. We need help,” added Fredia Lacey. She and her husband hope to finally be in their home by this time next year.

Demographer Greg Rigamer found that both communities face a significant challenge in restoring neighborhoods.

“I think the most significant challenge we face as a community, and particularly in neighborhoods like Lakeview and Gentilly, is that there is an extraordinary number of abandoned, blighted properties,” he said.

"We've almost lost everything, and it's a wake-up call,” Wendell Pierce said. “It was a wake-up call for New Orleanians, and we realize now that we don't take it for granted."

“We're a community that care remembered. I mean we, and in part because we can be, the city will be, a city that care remembered,” said Lakeview’s Glenn Stoudt.

But one uncertainty remains: what if it happens again?

"Could we do this all again? No, I don't think so,” Stoudt said.