NOLA Musicians’ Village

New Orleans’ Musicians’ Village will see its first new residents in mid-August, on its way toward providing housing for hundreds of musicians displaced by Hurricane Katrina. But not all its neighbors are thrilled about it.

Musicians providing labor to the project – a housing program run by Habitat for Humanity and the brainchild of honorary chairmen Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr. – are eligible to purchase a house for as little as $500 a month on a home worth about $75,000, and live in a neighborhood of fellow musicians.

Some longtime residents, many of whom are homeowners themselves, have expressed some resentment about the new neighbors – and the bright paint and similar appearance of the new homes, which do appear out of place next to older, diverse architecture in the established neighborhoods.

Antoinette Thornton, a nurse who lives around the corner from the development, called the new homes “little huts.”

“Look at those funny little houses they’re putting in there,” said Thornton, who recently returned to New Orleans after staying in Irvine, Calif., since Katrina struck last August. “If we’re talking about bettering New Orleans, why put those there? It’s not a step in the right direction.”

But for those who lost homes in the disaster, the Musicians’ Village is a chance for another start.

“It’s a great idea,” said Dan Oestreicher, a 23-year-old jazz musician who was flooded out of his apartment last August. “When I tell people, they’re like, ‘What’s the catch?'”

The “catch” is that Habitat requires Oestreicher and other new homeowners to help build the homes. They must spend 350 hours hammering nails, painting and sawing boards in sometimes brutal New Orleans summer heat and humidity.

In return, Habitat will sell 1,100-square-foot homes to displaced New Orleanians such as Oestreicher for $75,000, in an agreement that includes a no-interest mortgage and financial provisions to discourage the new homeowners from reselling for a quick profit.

The program is open to people of any profession, but its name and a publicity campaign at nightclubs and other venues have attracted plenty of musicians, including Oestreicher. Other musicians moving in include jazz bassist Peter Beadie and Fredy Omar, a singer whose new house is almost finished.

Habitat also won corporate sponsors for Musicians’ Village including 84 Lumber Co., Exxon Mobil Corp. and mortgage finance company Freddie Mac.

The group bought a vacant lot formerly owned by the city school board and is using its army of volunteers – about 3,000 of them so far – to build 75 homes. It plans another 225 houses elsewhere in the neighborhood, said Elizabeth Lisle, a Habitat deputy director.