'Musicians' Village' Helps Struggling Artists Buy Homes

By Courtney Bowe and Vanessa Mizell
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, April 9, 2007; 12:16 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- The following report was written by Howard University student journalists who traveled to New Orleans last month with classmates helping to rebuild the hurricane-damaged city.

Kent William Bowman sits perched atop an overturned brown milk crate at the corner of Orleans Street and Royal Street. Behind him, his wife's color ful paintings adorn the long stretch of a tarnished gate. He hopes to supplement whatever money he makes from the day's gigs and CD sales on this corner, by selling some of his wife's art.

He is a starving artist. He is a musician in New Orleans. It's no secret that Hurricane Katrina not only damaged neighborhoods like Fillmore, Pontchartrain Park, and Desire, but hit the city's musicians hard too. Musicians such as Bowman are finding it hard to make a steady dollar.

Money troubles often lead to sagging credit scores, which can make it hard if you're in the market for a mortgage.

As rents have skyrocketed in the wake of Katrina, Bowman and other struggling musicians have honed in on a housing opportunity designed for artists.

Musicians' Village is an eight-acre housing development in the Upper Ninth Ward being built by the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity. Seeking to assist musicians in buying new homes, musicians Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis came up with the idea after the storm as one way to help the city hold on to its musical heritage.

According to Habitat spokesperson Aleis Tusa, the group estimates two-thirds of the 70 houses will be filled by musicians. The remaining homes will be open to other qualifying families.

"We want some families to learn and experience the music where they might not have music in their own home," Tusa said.

But Connick and Marsalis, both honorary members of Habitat, noticed a problem. Many musicians were not getting accepted into the program.

That's when Jackie Harris, former director of the New Orleans Music and Entertainment Commission and hired by Connick and Marsalis, made a phone call.

Meet Fred Johnson.

"I am not a real-estate agent, and I am not a real-estate broker. I am here to get the landlord's foot off your neck," said Johnson, hosting a meeting of about a dozen musicians trying to secure housing in Musicians' Village.

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